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‘A blank slate’: San Diego Wave players don’t want to wait for success

(Courtesy of San Diego Wave FC)

San Diego Wave FC will take the field for the first time on Saturday against fellow expansion team and rival to-be Angel City FC in the NWSL Challenge Cup.

From there, they’ll continue competing in a round robin against the four-team West division — also including Portland Thorns FC and OL Reign — to battle for a spot in the semifinals on May 4. Getting there might seem like an insurmountable task for a new club against the No. 1 and No. 2 teams from 2021. The players, however, aren’t thinking that way.

To most of them, head coach Casey Stoney is the team’s biggest asset. She’s earned their trust through her professionalism, drive, open-mindedness and shared experiences.

“I think just being led by an incredible coach and coaching staff has been really, really important in building this club to success,” Alex Morgan told Just Women’s Sports during media day earlier this week.

Under Stoney’s leadership, the players feel like they’re maximizing their time on the field, bringing them closer and enhancing their confidence heading into the Challenge Cup.

“The girls have really bought into what she’s trying to showcase, so I think that’s been a big plus for us,” said Katie Johnson.

Players appreciate Stoney’s ability to balance the tactical and technical sides of training. The natural technical ability of some of the Wave’s players could give them an advantage against more experienced teams. They’re still getting used to each other’s playing styles, but they have been quick to adapt and build around the variety they have.

It helps that the roster features a balance of experience and “raw, young talent,” as goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan describes it.

“I think Casey brought them in for a reason, because she can hone in on their skill and guide them to being at their optimal,” Sheridan said. “I think that could also be a bit of a long-term project, but I also think she brought in a lot of players that are ready to go right now.”

McNabb says the benefit of having so many new players is that they bring fresh energy and perspectives. Ignorance is bliss. The grueling nature of being a professional athlete hasn’t caught up to them yet.

“I think they all just showed up with such eagerness. They’ll come in and they’re so excited, and it’s go, go, go, which is awesome,” said McNabb.

Superseding the different levels of experience is the Wave’s collective desire that they don’t need time to “settle in.” They’re here to raise a trophy.

“The hunger to prove ourselves is something that’s standing out,” said defender Abby Dahlkemper. “We have a blank slate. We have this unwritten book that we can create and write our own narratives, and I think that’s really exciting and something that definitely everyone is really looking forward to.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.