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NWSL season preview 2023: San Diego Wave are ready to build off inaugural campaign

After a historic first season in the NWSL, Casey Stoney and the San Diego Wave have their eyes set on finishing what they set out for last season. 

Casey Stoney’s San Diego Wave is one of the most intriguing clubs heading into the 2023 season. In their inaugural season in the NWSL, the Wave broke attendance records, created a rabid fan base, and made it all the way to the semifinals before a stoppage-time Crystal Dunn goal halted any more progression.

Looking at this roster, Stoney along with former USWNT head coach Jill Ellis has assembled one of the deepest teams in the league over the past two offseasons. From the ambitious signings of Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson, and Abby Dahlkemper to the belief in talented youth players like Naomi Girma and Jaedyn Shaw, this club has checked all the boxes personnel-wise for a championship contender.

The acquisition of the top-class midfielder, Danielle Colaprico from the Chicago Red Stars, and Megan Dougherty Howard from the Orlando Pride changes the ceiling of the midfield. With players like Amirah Ali, and Rachel Hill up top along with Madison Pogarch in the backline, the Wave have the depth to compete with any team across the league.

For the majority of the season, the Wave sat at the top of the table, but after winning just one of their final four contests, OL Reign was able to secure its third-ever Shield. One can ignore the inexperience of the club as a whole. Equipped with veteran players and coaches, there is no question San Diego has the potential to sit atop the NWSL table on Oct. 15.

With Stoney at the helm, the Wave have one of the most passionate, and intelligent football minds leading the charge toward success. Her player-first mentality will allow the veteran players on the team to teach the club’s young talents.

San Diego Wave: Projected starting XI (4-3-3): 

Goalkeeper: Kalien Sheridan

Defenders (4): Naomi Girma, Kelsey Turnbow, Emily van Egmond, Kaleigh Riehl

Midfielders (3): Danielle Colaprico, Megan Dougherty Howard, Taylor Kornieck

Forwards (3): Alex Morgan, Jaedyn Shaw, Sofia Jakobsson

San Diego Wave Most Important Player: Goalkeeper, Kalien Sheridan

There is arguably not a goalkeeper around that has the ability to affect a game as much as Canadian international Kalien Sheridan. After finishing the 2022 NWSL regular season with a near 80 percent save percentage, Sheridan seeks to maintain her spot as the league’s most consistent shot-stopper.

The Canadian finished second in the league behind Bella Bixby and Phallon Tullis-Joyce in total clean sheets but led the NWSL in number of penalty saves. Her reflexes and athleticism between the sticks have molded her into one of the most feared penalty stoppers in the world.

If the Wave want to be successful, maintaining the kind of defensive prowess from last season is vital. San Diego concluded the 2022 regular season by allowing the second-fewest goals. While Colaprico will add even more dynamism to the Wave attack, Sheridan is the player that is going to decide this team’s fate in 2023. While backup Carly Telford was impressive in her absence, this team looks completely different with Sheridan laying her eyes on the opposition’s attacking players.

San Diego Wave best-case scenario for the 2023 season: Hoisting the NWSL title

The talent in this league is at an all-time high. Heading into the regular season, there is arguably four teams that could make the case that they could be standing atop the NWSL on Nov. 11. The Wave are without a doubt one of them.

San Diego came just one stoppage time goal away from extending its semifinal with the Thorns and potentially pulling off the upset win on the road. Coming that close to making it to the promised land in the first season since joining the NWSL has to make these players hungry for more. In addition to that, one of the Wave’s newest acquisitions, Coloprico has played in five semifinals and one championship but has never been able to get over the top.

San Diego Wave projected finish: 2nd in the NWSL table, runners-up for the championship

It would not be a surprise to see the California side as the Shield winners, but realistically, the defending champions should just edge them out. The Wave have depth and talent all over the pitch. It is not a squad that will have to introduce a whole lot of new players. The core of this team from the inaugural season remains.

Shaw began her career with three goals in just seven games, and with Morgan by her side to provide a veteran presence, the sky is the limit for the 18-year-old. Given all of Stoney’s offensive riches, this team would very well lead the league in goals after finishing tied for fourth last season. With the reliability of players like Girma, and Riehl in the backline, the defense should have no problem doing its job consistently in such a transitional league.

Looking at the roster, it is evident that San Diego will have a lot of representatives on the World Cup, but that will not make much of a difference. During that window, the Wave have just four games, including two Challenge Cup contests on the west coast. 2nd at the end of the regular season seems like a fair finish for a club with this much talent. Concluding the campaign as the runners-up for the title mimics the Current’s progress in its second season. Hold on for the ride. This team is much-watch television in 2023.

Check out our NWSL hub page for more news, analysis, opinion and unique women’s soccer coverage. And don’t forget to follow FOR(E) on Twitter, FanSided’s home for women’s sports.

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