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With Stoney leading the way, the San Diego Wave are more than just Alex Morgan

Currently sitting on top of the NWSL table, the San Diego Wave have set a new standard for expansion clubs. What's behind their on-field success in 2022?

3 min read
© Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Hits

  • Currently sitting on top of the NWSL table, the San Diego Wave have set a new standard for expansion clubs
  • Alex Morgan and Taylor Kornieck have been electric this year, but there’s more to San Diego than those two stars

The San Diego Wave have set a new standard for expansion clubs in the NWSL. Previous expansion teams have struggled to find their footing in this parity-filled league, but San Diego seem to have figured it out from the start. They’re on top of the table right now with 22 points through 13 games.

Alex Morgan and Taylor Kornieck have been hot topics around the NWSL so far this season – and for good reason. Morgan is leading the NWSL Golden Boot race with more goals (11) than last year’s Golden Boot winner scored all season (Ashley Hatch, 10), and Kornieck is playing the best soccer of her career. Those two players deserve credit, but there’s more to San Diego’s success than just Morgan and Kornieck.

So, what other factors have contributed to the Wave’s early success? Let’s talk about that.


Before coming to the NWSL, Casey Stoney was the head coach of Manchester United Women in the Women’s Super League over in England. Stoney was the first-ever head coach of the club, which started its life in the second division of English women’s soccer.

Following Stoney’s first season at the helm, United was promoted to the top flight. She then led her team to back-to-back fourth place finishes in the Women’s Super League, winning 52 of the 77 games she coached for Manchester United before leaving for the United States.

Stoney’s experiences with United taught her what it takes to be a successful coach and develop a successful club from the start, and that has given the Wave an advantage in their expansion season.


The Wave selected Stanford defender Naomi Girma with the first overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, which came as a surprise to many who assumed back-to-back MAC Hermann Trophy winner Jaelin Howell would be drafted in the top spot. Circling back to my point about how Casey Stoney knows that it takes to be successful…it’s pretty clear that she was onto something with this draft pick.

Girma has been excellent in the NWSL ever since her professional debut.

Of players who have recorded at least 500 minutes this season, Girma has the third best goals added value per 96 minutes on the Wave (0.06) and her interrupting goals added value is the best on the team (0.06). This number is also third-best in the league, only behind Houston’s Rachel Daly and Angel City’s Tyler Lussi.

Since this value captures how a player’s tackles, interceptions, blocks, clearances, recoveries, and contested headers help their team’s chances of winning, the ideal defender would impress in this metric, just like Girma is doing.

Girma’s performances even earned her a spot on the USWNT roster for World Cup and Olympic qualifying earlier this month, where she played in multiple games. With her play down in Mexico, she locked up a spot on the Concacaf W Championship Best XI alongside long-time USWNT center back Becky Sauerbrunn.

At this point in the year, it’s pretty clear that if we’re talking about San Diego’s success, we have to talk about Naomi Girma.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, San Diego could very well continue on this trajectory and stay near the top of the table. With Stoney leading the team from the sideline and Morgan, Kornieck, and Girma taking care of business on the field, the Wave could make their postseason debut this fall.

Stats courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.