San Diego Wave FC will seek a berth in the NWSL Championship in its inaugural season when it faces Portland Thorns FC in a semifinal Sunday in Portland, Oregon.
“They are very experienced, they’ve been in this position before, they’ve been a top side for many, many years,” Wave FC coach Casey Stoney said. Portland has at least reached the semifinals eight of the nine years the NWSL has conducted playoffs, including advancing to the final three times and winning championships in 2013 and 2017. The league’s 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know it’s going to be a difficult game as it has been. We are going to have to be at our very, very best to get to the final,” Stoney said.
Wave FC advanced to the semifinal with a 2-1 overtime victory over Chicago Red Stars in a first-round game last Sunday, overcoming an early 1-0 deficit. Thorns FC received a first-round bye thanks to its second-place regular-season finish.
Portland will be playing for the first time since Oct. 2. The league was on an international break from Oct. 3-11.
“Historically, I don’t think (having a bye week) has been a great advantage,” Thorns FC coach Rhian Wilkinson said. “I would say that it would be naive to think that since (Wave FC) had a game, they’re going to be more tired. They’re going to look after their athletes.”
Wave FC was 1-0-1 against Portland in the regular season, including a 2-0 victory in its most recent match, Aug. 27 in Portland.
“The last time we played San Diego… we still have that haunting us a little bit because we didn’t show up that well,” Thorns FC forward Morgan Weaver said on the “Attacking Third” podcast last week. “I think that’s in the back of our heads.”
Wave FC lost both of its NWSL Challenge Cup matches to Portland before the start of the regular season.
Thorns FC scored a league-high 49 goals en route to a 10-3-9 record for 39 standings points. Its plus-25 goal differential was the best in the league.
Wave FC was among three teams with 36 points and 10-6-6 records and was third in the standings because it had a better goal differential than the teams it was tied with, the Houston Dash and Kansas City Current. Wave FC’s 34 goals were fifth in the 12-team league and its plus-11 goal differential was fourth.
Wave FC allowed 21 goals, second-fewest in the league, while Portland allowed 24, the third fewest.
San Diego fans not making the trek to Portland can join a free watch party at Snapdragon Stadium. The Northeast Kaiser Permanente gate opens at 1 p.m. 2101 Stadium Way in Mission Valley.
The game matches the NWSL’s two leading goal scorers in the regular season — Wave FC forward Alex Morgan scored 15, the first time in her nine seasons in the league she exceeded nine, and Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith, who scored 14.
Morgan is among three Wave FC players nominated for the 2022 NWSL Awards. Morgan was nominated for the MVP award, along with teammate Naomi Girma, who was also nominated for defender of the year and rookie of the year. Kailen Sheridan was nominated for goalkeeper of the year.
Stoney was nominated for coach of the year.
Smith was also nominated for the MVP award while teammate Becky Sauerbrunn was among the five nominees for defender of the year and midfielder Sam Coffey was among three nominees for rookie of the year.
Portland’s roster also includes 17-year-old midfielder Olivia Moultrie, who in 2019 became the youngest American women’s soccer player to turn professional at age 13, and midfielder Taylor Porter, a Patrick Henry High School alum.
Moultrie had three goals and four assists in 14 regular-season games, including eight starts. Porter scored three goals in 11 games, including five starts.
The 2 p.m. game at Providence Park will be televised by cable’s CBS Sports Network and streamed on Paramount+. A free watch party will begin at 1 p.m. at Snapdragon Stadium with parking gates and the team store opening at noon. Concessions will be available for purchase. The team is reminding fans to bring their own chairs and blankets.
The winner will face the winner of the OL Reign-Kansas City semifinal, which will be played later Sunday, in Saturday’s Championship in Washington, D.C.