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Five things to know about the San Diego Wave

Get to know OL Reign’s opponent for their home opener

Nikita Taparia/Sounder At Heart

OL Reign will celebrate its home opener on Saturday at Lumen Field when the club takes on the San Diego Wave. The match kicks off at 7 PM PT and will air locally on FOX 13+ in addition to streaming on Paramount+ (U.S.), TSN+ (Canada), and the NWSL website (International).

The Wave have started the season off well, winning their first two matches, which were both at home. They’ve scored six goals while conceding three. OL Reign is 1-1-0, with the team’s first two matches on the road. The Reign have scored two goals while conceding just one.

Mirroring trends across the league, OL Reign expects to break its home opener attendance record on Saturday, and it should be a fun match for fans. Both squads, who had players missing last week during the FIFA window, should have dangerous starting lineups with plenty of international stars.

Here are five things to know about the San Diego Wave.

Lots of returning players

Like OL Reign, the Wave brought back their starting core. The backline is unchanged, with one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Kailen Sheridan, protecting the goal. Reigning Rookie and Defender of the Year, Naomi Girma, starts at centerback alongside Kaleigh Riehl, and two former Reign players — Kristen McNabb and Christen Westphal — are the first-choice fullbacks.

The team added longtime Chicago Red Stars midfielder Dani Colaprico to the roster, who brings more ball-winning and possession skills. Australian Emily Van Egmond is the team’s holding midfielder, with Taylor Kornieck higher up in the midfield.

On the frontline, Alex Morgan returns along with 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw and 24-year-old Amirah Ali. Both players earned minutes last year, but they weren’t consistent starters. They look ready to contribute a lot more in 2023.

Swedish international Sofia Jakobsson, Makenzy Doniak, and Kelsey Turnbow will also get a lot of time on the frontline and are returning from last year.

Direct but intentional play

While the San Diego Wave have players who can keep possession, they are also a very direct team — pumping a lot of balls into the box for players like Alex Morgan and Taylor Kornieck to win. In 2022, the Wave were fourth in the league in passes into the penalty box (it should be noted that the Reign were second). They also led the league in long balls attempted, although the Reign completed more in 2022.

Check out this graphic from a season preview done by American Soccer Analysis. While it doesn’t always make for the prettiest of soccer, and the Wave don’t win every ball in the box, they have done well to create chaos with these balls.

Via American Soccer Analysis

Their numbers in both categories are lower so far, but we are only two matches into the season. It doesn’t look like the Wave have altered their game plan too much. That means the Reign are going to have to defend first balls well and deny space in behind. A lot of that starts with the pressure the team applies in the midfield and higher up the field.

Alex Morgan, still scoring goals

The San Diego Wave won five penalties last year, with Alex Morgan converting all of them — contributing to a league-leading 15 goals scored in 2022. That trend continued in San Diego’s first two matches, with Morgan getting two penalties and a third goal thanks to a Wave interception in midfield.

One thing that makes Morgan dangerous is the midfield and fullbacks behind her. Kornieck, in particular, is great at finding Morgan in space, and the fullbacks often dribble into the midfield to send similar balls to the frontline.

Don’t sleep on Sheridan either, who can unleash some dangerous balls from deep. The Reign did well to cut off that service in 2022, going 2-0-2 across all competitions against the Wave. Can they have the same impact on Saturday?

There are more scoring threats too

Morgan isn’t scoring all of San Diego’s goals this year. Shaw has scored two already, including this rocket in their opening match. The Reign can’t only focus on Morgan — and as you’ll see from the clip below, they have to be sure to clear balls in the box. If they don’t, Shaw or other players will certainly punish them.

A defensively strong side

The Wave, like the Reign, are a defensively organized side. They haven’t given up a single goal in open play after two games and are second in the league in expected goals against in open play (1.22 xG against versus 1.27 for OL Reign).

They are a hard side to break down, but OL Reign could have some luck on set pieces. The Wave sits behind only Orlando for the most set piece xG given up — 1.14 xG (not counting penalties). In addition to conceding two penalties, the Wave gave up a goal on a corner.

OL Reign’s home opener kicks off Saturday, April 15, at 7 PM PT. The match against the San Diego Wave will air on FOX 13+ in Western Washington and will stream on Paramount+ (U.S.), TSN+ (Canada), and (International).

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