2024 S-2 Briefing: San Diego Wave

In the second of our “S-2 Briefing” series we look at last season’s Shield, the Wave of San Diego.

As we did with Gotham, let’s start with last year’s San Diego entry in this series, and just add anything that changed last year.

Year formed: 2021
The Wave are a bouncing three year old this year.

Owner: Ron Burkle.
New season, same vulture capital dude.

Head Coach: Casey Stoney
For her work in 2022 Stoney nicked Coach of the Year. For her work in 2023 she might have repeated except for Gotham’s Amoros rode the Worst-to-First miracle season.

Stoney has gotten a rep as a not-pretty-defend-and-counter manager, and her Wave is often not really fun to play or to watch. But they’ve been semifinalists two years running, so if it’s boring and ugly and it works it’s not boring and ugly. Okay, it still is fucking boring and ugly, but it works.

2022 – 10-6-6 (36 points; 3rd of 12) 32GF 21GA +11GD)
2023 – 11-7-4 (37 points, 1st of 12) 31GF 22GA +9GD)
Season summary: The Wave came out of the gate a lot less strong than the previous season, going 3-3-0 over the first six and flirting with the red line…until a horrific run of midseason form (1-3-3 between Matchday 8 and Matchday 16) dropped them right on the line:

The last seven games turned the Wave around; wins over Gotham, Orlando, and Houston were just another day at the office. But after a shocking home loss to Kansas City the Wave came here and hammered us flat 0-2 and reclaimed the top spot.

Then we came apart in LA, they beat the hapless Racing, and it was silverware in San Diego and a first-round bye

There they met Seattle and got shut out 0-1, losing their second consecutive semifinal.
Meetings with Portland: 5/26/21 (1-1 home draw), 9/30/23 (0-2 San Diego win)

Outstanding players: Alex Morgan couldn’t repeat her 2022 Golden Boot season, but luckily for the Wave she didn’t have to; sophomore sensation Jadyn Shaw added her five goals to Morgan’s six.

Makenzy Doniak knocked in three again, and four others, including Amirah Ali and Sofia Jakobsson, had two each. Six more players chipped in a goal apiece, including Taylor Korneick, who kind of fell off the table last season.

The Wave returned Best XI centerback Naomi Girma and Abby Dahlkemper in back alongside solid squad players like Christen Westphal and Kristen McNabb.

As a unit the Wave backline was on the better side of reducing dangerous chances; a season post-shot xG against of 23.9, or less than about 1.09 xG against per game; about the same as 2022 (1.1 xGa).

Behind them Kailen Sheridan continued her slow slide. From 2022 (17GA on an xGa of 22.59, DDiff -0.28/game) she recorded 18GA on a PSxGa or 20.1, so a DDiff of only -0.09/Gm – in other words Sheridan saved the Wave only about a goal every ten games over what their opponents’ xG suggested.

Compare that to the top keepers like Abby Smith (0.54, or a goal saved every two games) or Anna Moorhouse (0.34, so a goal every three games). Sheridan is still a solid keeper…but no longer among the best in the league.

How did they score?

Here’s the Wave’d 2023 goals broken down. Goals from the run of play are colored in green, penalty kick goals yellow. Setpieces are in blue, and the lone own goal (off KC’s unlucky AD Franch) in red.

Morgan scored both PKs. The surprising thing is that with that beanpole Korneick on the pitch the Wave didn’t seem to have a set play for her on corners; the corner kick scorers were Shaw, Pogarch (hi, Po!), Shorts, Dahlkemper, Carusa, and Enge.

Changes for 2024

As in 2023 San Diego had only two natural draft picks in 2024. Unlike 2023, The Wave was cautious signing free agents, the biggest name probably being Savannah McCaskill from ACFC.

Going the other way were Meggie Dougherty Howard (to ACFC) and Taylor (Korneick) Flint (to Louisville), both for allocation money or whatever we’re calling Bermanbux now.

In the NCAA draft San Diego traded up from 14th to 12th overall and drafted Kennedy Wesley, left back/centerback out of Stanford. Henderson loved the pick, so I can’t disagree.

The other (42nd overall, last in the third round) brought in a winger from University of Memphis, Mya Jones. Henderson gushed: “A scoring terminator who is worth an international slot. Might be class’ best dribbler and posted video game numbers in Memphis’ attack as a senior. Perfect fit here.”

So…not a whole lot of new faces here this season, but a lot of good players returning and some good-looking noobs.

How Did They Look?

Well, on Opening Day the Wave ran out in the only 4-2-2-2 they played the entire season:

Ali and Morgan up to with Shaw and Meggie Howard as wingers, Van Egmond and Colaprico as the double pivot, and Westphal-Riehl-Girma-McNabb across the back.

A bit later in the spring Stoney tried an old-school 4-4-2. It didn’t go well, dropping points to Orlando in April and Washington on May. Here’s the Spirit game:

Shaw pushed up alongside Morgan with Jakobsson and Rachel Hill on the wings and Doniak where Van Egmond was. Same backline.

When we saw them in September the Wave were in their “other” less-used formation, the 4-3-3:

Interesting! Morgan swaps sides, Hill returns as RW with Carusa at the #9. Shaw is now the right ACM, Colaprico the left-side #8 with Van Egmond at the DM. Po is in for McNabb and Dahkemper for Riehl. Worked like a mechanical ass-kicker, too.

But the most typical way you saw the Wave in 2023 was in a 4-2-3-1. Here it is for the first outing in May against Kansas City:

And here in midsummer, the July Replacements match against Washington:

And finally in October against Louisville:

Stoney ran the 4-2-3-1 out in the semi, too. Didn’t work so good there.

What’s interesting to me is how she moved the attackers around in the 4-2-3-1. Morgan’s is always the #9 when she’s there, but Shaw moves inside and out to the wing. Doniak and Hill are wings, but so are Carusa and Jakobsson. Only the backline is less shifty, with Girma the rock, Dahlkemper, and Westphal a steady presence at RW.

How’d all this go? Here’s all Stoney’s formations with the results

FormationMatches (occurance)WLD
4-2-3-111 (10 season, SF)532

The Wave won at lest 50% in all their formations (the Shield? yeah, that…) and it looks like Stoney was right in that the 4-2-3-1 worked best.

Love to know the story behind the 4-2-2-2, though.

How they’ll look next year?

Here’s my guess:

There’s a lot of quality here, but looking at the roster a couple of injuries – and Colaprico or Morgan or McCaskill aren’t rookies anymore – could really hurt.

Shaw could have a bust-out season at any time, though.

But in general I think we’re likely to see a lot of the same San Diego we saw last season, only with more Shaw. The addition of McCaskill, one of my least favorite players, just cements my dislike of this squad. Between Stoney packing the back and McCaskill whining constantly this has the potential to be a really annoying outfit. It’s irritating that they’re good, too.

Summing Up

The Wave are now hands-down the most successful expansion club in league history

The Wave still have venue issues. Snapdragon Stadium still has the rock-hard football carpet that we used to have here at Civic Stadium back in the USL Timbers era. Much as I kind of hate to admit it, the Wave are a damn good club and deserve better than this miserable football turf.

The other open question is the same one that dogged Mark Parsons until 2017; are Stoney and this edition of the Wave “only just semifinal good”? Do they choke in crisis?

To shake that they need to climb the top step.


Hard to bet against playoffs at a minimum and possibly another run at the Shield. Stoney has been a good manager and the club is playoff-quality. I don’t see losing Flint and gaining McCaskill as changing that much.

Can they win it all? They’ve come within 90 minutes twice. I see no reason why they couldn’t make a legitimate run at the star in 2024.

Will they be dangerous? In 2023 I said: “Yes. They should be just as difficult to play as they were, if not a bit tougher. They’re going to be damn deadly dangerous.”

That hasn’t changed.

Can the Thorns beat them? We couldn’t last season. I’m not sure whether adding Fleming will balance the loss of Dunn…meaning I’m not sure we’ve improved enough to change that.

In 2023 the Wave was “the opponent I still fear the most”. Now, frankly, Gotham looks just as dangerous. Great; now I have two opponents to really worry about.

Next up: The Damned Courage

John Lawes
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6 thoughts on “2024 S-2 Briefing: San Diego Wave

  1. The thing I like most about San Diego is their defense. They are solid in the middle and the front line could be explosive because Shaw is really good, Amir Ali is a powerful player and Alex Morgan is Alex Morgan and she always manages to up her play on years with a World Cup or Olympics.
    But Yeah: Gotham is the beast and everyone else will be nipping at their heels. I think Bay City might be the newest most successful new team in the league. They seem to be coming together really nice, but they will have to learn to play together.
    With 12 teams we could we could either see a lot more crazy “anyone can win on any given day” or couple of teams could just become perpetual cellar dwellers. I am curious what you will think about Chicago and Orlando.
    Right now I am definitely sporting my Rose colored glasses and feel the Thorns are one of the four best teams in the league. The talent is there but the tactics and coaching will need to match the skill on the field.
    Last year they were vulnerable on defense, solid but overloaded in the center and didn’t have enough answers in the attack when Sophia was gone. This year there are still questions on defense; the midfield I think is stronger; and there is a deeper attack.
    I maybe wrong, but I think that the Olympics won’t be as disruptive as the World Cup and the small Olympic rosters will reduce the hit as well.
    One thing for sure I won’t be predicting the teams finishing order. Last year I was very certain and very wrong.

    1. As you can tell from the Gotham post, I was as wrong about them as could be. So all of these are pure marginally-informed speculation…

      Yeah, on paper Portland has as strong a roster as any of the other potential playoff opponents. That’s been true for the past five or six years, though, and the results have been a Shield in ’21 and a star in ’22, and semifinal knockouts in 2019, 2021, and 2023. That’s great! Houston fans would kill for that!

      But here that’s kind of a disappointment, and a big part of the reasons are on the coaching; Parsons not being prepared for Chicago in the ’19 semi, and backing into the playoffs in ’21 (1-3-3 over the last seven during Black Autumn; kinda the same problem in ’19, only 1-3-1 over the last five), Wilkinson not being prepared for Gotham on Matchday 22 in 2022, and Norris squad collapsing in LA last season.

      So we do have the horses again. It’ll be on the gaffer to make them run.

  2. From my perspective, Gotham looks to be the class of the league, but a lot depends on players not starting to show their age. They didn’t look that great last year, but Ryan and Nighswonger as well as a rejuvenated Kreiger were important pieces for them.

    San Diego has always had an intelligent plan. Makes me wonder how good they would be if Jakobssen was as good as advertised.

    Portland should still be top 3. Bay FC looks very interesting

    1. See above. That was a big part of this post, noting that Gotham snuck in and got hot in the playoffs, recognized that, and tooled up in the offseason.

      Also see above; based purely on roster we should compete for the Shield damn near every season. It’s all about the brains, not the body.

  3. Can’t edit. I meant Gotham didn’t look that great walking into last year.

    I still think the Portland result in the playoff game was considered an upset and wonder how things would have played out if Hina/Kuikka weren’t in the bench to start.

    1. I wouldn’t call it an “upset”, particularly given that our previous match was a complete disaster; we weren’t on good form coming in.

      But it WAS a hard-fought, pretty even match. I think my match report said something to the effect that it came down to who got the breaks. Gotham did, we didn’t, and that was the nutroll.

      Sugita had a disaster of a semifinal, one of if not the worst match she played all season, and given that she had just flown in from Asia that’s not really a surprise. Kuikka had just had a tough European campaign, too, tho her work was much better. Thing is that Kling was surprisingly decent in her RB spot.

      Hard to say. My guess is that if you replayed that match ten times we’d have won four, they’d have won three, and three would have been draws. But it don’t work that way…


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