Last season, Sierra Enge watched the San Diego Wave take on Angel City FC in September as a fan. She turned on the TV and cheered for both the Wave and the attendance record that the teams were hoping to break.
For Enge, it was an important night in women’s soccer. The sellout crowd of 32,000 fans shattered the NWSL single-game attendance record, and Enge watched her hometown team — one that several of her friends played for — secure a victory over their in-state rival in their first game at Snapdragon Stadium.
“I was like, ‘Wow.’ It just shows how much women’s sports are growing and how much San Diego is just supporting the growth of it,” Enge said.
That moment was big.
This one is bigger.
Enge, who grew up in San Diego County, is now playing for her hometown team and experiencing the rivalry with Angel City firsthand.
The Wave played in Los Angeles earlier this season, coming away with a 2-0 victory on April 23. On Saturday, the two clubs square off at Snapdragon Stadium for their second regular-season meeting of the year. San Diego is coming into the game on a five-match unbeaten streak and in first place in the NWSL standings, while Angel City is looking to find its footing after dropping to 11th.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it,” Enge said of the rivalry. “I feel like just the attendance and the hype around this game last year was so incredible. And then when we played Angel City earlier this season on the road, you can just tell that there’s kind of a different energy around the game.”
From growing up in Cardiff, a beach community located 22 miles from San Diego, most of Enge’s soccer memories and experiences are based in California. Before being drafted 13th overall by the Wave in January, the midfielder played college soccer at Stanford. There, Enge remembers batting Santa Clara in “emotionally driven” matches. She says Stanford didn’t have a clear rival like San Diego does with L.A., but the battles with the Broncos in California were always intense.
“Any time you play against a rival it’s just fun because you know all the girls on the team so well, and it’s that way with Angel City,” she said. “The better you know a team, sometimes the more fired up you can be.
“It’s one of those games where you are a little bit more nervous before, and the first five minutes of the game are probably a little bit chaotic, but after that it is just a great environment.”
Enge has added motivation every time she takes the field for San Diego. Growing up, she never dreamed that her hometown would have a professional women’s soccer team. But San Diego has always been a hotbed for soccer talent, and even now, several of her teammates played with or against her at the club and college levels.
“Southern California in general is just such a hot spot for soccer,” Enge said. “And the ability to be able to challenge yourself every day and play against better players and get yourself out of your comfort zone is something that I think is pretty unique at the youth soccer level. It’s definitely something that you don’t get all over the country.”
Like most aspiring soccer players, Enge spent her formative years watching the U.S. women’s national team. Back then, she didn’t know of any other ways to play professional soccer. Then, she learned about the NWSL and started following the best players in the country.
When she was drafted by the Wave, Enge received a warm welcome from Alex Morgan, another California native and a player she had long watched and admired.
Enge has made a point to soak up every bit of advice Morgan gives her, from how to be a professional to how to stay patient during the challenges of a rookie season. The 23-year-old has started all five regular-season matches she’s appeared in so far for San Diego, playing a full 90 minutes in four of them and scoring her first NWSL goal last month.
hometown kid bags her first @NWSL goal 💙LFG @sierraenge!! pic.twitter.com/tkXt1nrjab— San Diego Wave FC (@sandiegowavefc) May 21, 2023
hometown kid bags her first @NWSL goal 💙LFG @sierraenge!! pic.twitter.com/tkXt1nrjab
“I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from her, because she excels in every aspect of being a female athlete,” Enge said of Morgan.
“Honestly, if you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be teammates with Alex Morgan, I would have said, ‘There is no way.’ But it’s been such a special experience.”
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.