Saturday, February 24, 2024

San Diego Wave FC look to make NWSL history; Alex Morgan thrilled with inaugural season returns

San Diego Wave FC are in the final stretch of their inaugural season and chasing history along the way. The 2022 National Women’s Soccer League regular season has only five week remaining, and the California expansion side could make history as the first team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season.

San Diego’s arrival to the NWSL came just over a year ago when the league and franchise announced expansion in June 2021. The organization, owned by Ron Burkle, introduced two time FIFA women’s World Cup winner and former U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis as club president. 

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With less than a year to prepare for their first season, Ellis quickly got to work building out the club’s front office, hiring former USWNT team administrator Molly Downtain as general manager and former England women’s national team player Casey Stoney as head coach. 

A rapid start to NWSL life

The club assembled their roster through offseason trades, the expansion draft, NWSL 2022 draft and player acquisition. One of the biggest player signings was the arrival of USWNT forward Alex Morgan. For Morgan, San Diego is her third NWSL club in the league’s decade-long existence, and it is another occasion where Morgan has been part of club building its identity from the ground up. 

“Honestly, it’s really exciting and it kind of brings a lot of youthful energy back [for] me,” Morgan told CBS Sports.

“Like, [our] on-field success and just seeing the ambitions of this club has me wanting to represent this club and the city so proudly. It’s been really fun to build something from the ground up and just seeing what the Wave is doing in such a short period of time. It just makes me really excited about the future — in year two, three and four, etc — if this is what we can accomplish in year one.”

The Wave made a big splash early this year, going on an incredible run, losing only two games in their first ten matches of the season. Morgan helped lead the team to their hot start, scoring 11 goals before leaving to compete in World Cup qualifiers in July. She is still in the lead for the 2022 NWSL golden boot with 13 goals. 

Fellow USWNT forward Sophia Smith and rookie Diana Ordoñez are both behind Morgan in the golden boot race with 11 goals each. If Morgan can keep up her scoring pace and win the individual award, it would be the first NWSL golden boot of her career. She scored her 13th goal in a recent win against Portland Thorns, and Stoney believes the 33-year-old striker is getting better with age.

“She’s happy. This is the most consistently she’d played within a club. When you gain consistency and momentum it helps your performance. She’s settled, her family’s in San Diego, she’s got support around her. She’s treated no differently than any other player in our environment, and I believe in that,” Stoney told the media following Saturday’s 2-0 win against the Portland Thorns, with Morgan finding the net. 

“She has been exceptional, on and off the pitch. Her leadership in and around the environment, the way she’s performed on the field is some of the best I’ve seen in her league career. She keeps getting better and better. She’s a bit of a fine wine at the moment isn’t she?”

Morgan’s current form in the league propelled her back into the national team earlier this year and helped the USWNT win the Concacaf W Championship in July — converting the game-winning penalty against Canada. The national team clinched their spot in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympic Games with the tournament win. Morgan was also named to to USWNT roster for the upcoming September friendlies against Nigeria. 

Morgan has been a marquee player since the NWSL’s founding in 2012 and was previously a part of long-standing clubs Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride. Now on her third team in the league and with her biggest goal scoring season to date in NWSL, Morgan is looking forward to making more history with the Wave as they prepare to move from Torero Stadium at the University of San Diego to their new facility, Snapdragon Stadium.

“Some of the challenges in any expansion team, like, you have limited resources when it comes to gathering players for the team, and kind of figuring it out as you go along,” Morgan said on the challenges of playing a new club.

“We played at Torero Stadium, which is great. It held 6,000 [fans], but we did share it. We shared a field with quite a few teams … But you know, it’s just trying to accelerate things that teams of 10 years have an edge on us in the NWSL in less than a year. So I’m just really proud to be a part of a club that’s trying to do the most in year one, and that’s why I think September 17 is going to be really exciting for us, and I feel like this club is doing it right.”

History on the horizon

San Diego Wave FC will likely break the NWSL’s all-time attendance record for a regular season match after selling over 27,000 tickets for their game against Angel City FC on Sept. 17 at Snapdragon Stadium. The venue is set to open on Sept. 3 is and located on the campus of San Diego State University’s Mission Valley campus. 

The franchise is on pace to sell out the new stadium at 32,000 and would shatter the previous record of 25,218 set by Portland Thorns FC against North Carolina Courage at Providence Park. It will be a massive benchmark for the franchise still establishing their roots in the NWSL.

Connecting with SD community

In their early stages, the organization assembled a women-led franchise that tried to emphasize player well being and a desire to build bridges within the larger San Diego community. As the club unveiled their new name and crest, they announced the full name as San Diego Wave Fútbol Club, in homage to the large Hispanic population in the community. 

The team has hosted theme nights at their games in an effort to connect with the San Diego community, beginning with their Pride night, to their most recent event, a Hispanic Heritage Night, honoring influential Hispanic leaders from the San Diego community and featuring public addresses in both Spanish and English.

We just had Hispanic Heritage night, and to be a part of these themed nights are always great because it’s tapping into the community in a way that not only we should but we need to as a club representing San Diego. If we’re representing the city, we need to represent all of what the city offers,” said Morgan.

The club also had live Mariachi music throughout, which Morgan says needs to be played at more NWSL matches “one thousand percent.” Participating in the Wave’s first ever Hispanic Heritage Night was special for Morgan, who has family with Mexican heritage through her husband Servando Carrasco. The couple has been married since 2014. They have a daughter — Charlie Elena Carrasco.

“We’re so close to Mexico, my husband grew up in Tijuana, and my daughter is half Mexican. So to be able to be surrounded by a lot of my family that are from Mexico, it’s great to be able to to honor them the other night at the game. To see just even little things, like an all-female mariachi band, that’s really cool. Like, I love seeing that. So, we need to continue honoring the great people of San Diego and the diversity that this city has.”

The franchise continues to chase history in a multitude of ways, whether it’s in results on the pitch or connections with the community. The Wave are currently in first place in the league standings with 31 points, and are firmly in the NWSL Shield race with just four games remaining on their schedule. The team will face Washington Spirit on the road at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. on September 10. 

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