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Gotham Oppo Research: 5 Things about the San Diego Wave

Abraham Zepeda of SanDiego.Futbol tells us why the Wave respect Gotham FC — and why Alex Morgan will lift the 2024 Challenge Cup.

Alex Morgan wears the 2024 San Diego Wave away kit
Good-looking kit | Courtesy San Diego Wave

In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Abraham Zepeda of SanFiego.Futbol to get the intel on the San Diego Wave, the winner of the 2023 NWSL Shield and Gotham FC's opponent later today in the 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup at Red Bull Arena: Silverware will be lifted in New Jersey tonight.

Note: This interview was conducted before the news broke late yesterday that billionaire Ron Burkle will sell the Wave to Levine Leichtman family for a reported $113 million.

Read on to learn more about San Diego.

1. It's championship or bust

Hudson River Blue: The San Diego Wave are a new club, but they came sprinting straight out of the gate: Last year's NWSL Shield-winning season followed on the heels of a third-place finish in their inaugural season in 2022. What are the expectations for the club this year?

Abraham Zepeda: Championship or bust. It’s the only mentality to have after adding to your roster and nearly making the final last season.

Jaedyn Shaw and Naomi Girma are now officially the future of the United States Women’s National Team and will likely develop into even better players — a scary proposition for national teams around the world. Especially with a legend like Alex Morgan to guide the two, the Wave may only grow.

2. The Challenge Cup matters — up to a point

HRB: Does the Challenge Cup matter to the Wave faithful? This new-look tournament is now just a single game between the NWSL champions and the winners of the NWSL Shield — does the one-and-done format take away from the importance of the cup? Or does it always matter if there's silverware at stake?

AZ: A lot of San Diego Wave fans made it out to the NWSL Championship game in San Diego in 2023, and from my feeling, have a lot of respect for the Gotham team, so this game definitely matters to the fans as a measuring stick in that sense.

Silverware should always matter in the eyes of the fans, but the Challenge Cup matches were by far the least attended all season, and the team displayed weak performances without the international players. 

My opinion? It’s a fun way to get the season started with marquee players and teams, but a loss would be forgotten by the home opener on March 23.  

3. The San Diego core is intact

HRB: How much of a change did the team undergo in the offseason? Who are the biggest departures? The biggest additions?

AZ: Some good offensive players left via expansion draft trades, and Kaleigh Riehl was a solid center back while Abby Dahlkemper was injured, but no starters left the team.

The biggest loss is definitely Taylor Flint, formerly known as Kornieck. She shined in 2022 with stellar offensive play that earned her a spot on the USWNT and was fun to watch as she used her height and physicality to outclass opponents. However, she did not have that same impact in 2023 as she dealt with injuries most of the season and never returned to form. Flint requested a trade and was sent to Racing Louisville a week before the preseason started.

An interesting note though did come later after Casey Stoney said in an exclusive interview with that Flint did not wish to “compete.” 

As far as additions go, Elysse Benett joined through an expansion draft trade and has been highly regarded as a leader on the team already and could be very important in the Wave’s offense this season. 

4. Savannah McCaskill lets Alex Morgan be Alex Morgan

HRB: Forward Alex Morgan is one of the greatest players ever to lace on a pair of cleats, and defender Naomi Girma and forward Jaedyn Shaw were named to the NWSL Best XI in 2023. Who else should we keep our eyes on in today's game?

AZ: Savannah McCaskill has been around the league for many years, and seems to enjoy her new role with the Wave. One of the main things missing last season was a player in the midfield to ease the offensive burden from Alex Morgan and McCaskill can provide that as a midfielder. 

Also, any of the attackers off the bench should worry any team. Ireland’s Kyra Carusa was solid at the end of the season for the Wave, and 2024 draft pick Mya Jones has been highly-regarded as a rookie attacker who I’ve been told is a great addition to the Wave offense.  

Savannah McCaskill: July NWSL Player of the Month

5. Predicted Starting XI

HRB: Prediction time: Who will be in the Starting XI today at Red Bull Arena? What will be the final score?

AZ: Wave 3, Gotham 2.

There is so much diversity in play that Juan Carlos Amoros can highlight that I really enjoyed watching at the end of last season. The fact that seven Gotham players were called up to the USWNT will definitely have an impact on this match. They play all across the field for Gotham and thus will already have that connection across the entire pitch from Tierna Davidson to Midge Purce.

However, that means players need to be protected from over-usage and many of these players will be among those substituted for fresh legs. Looking at the bench of both teams, I give the edge to the Wave and believe that’s where the match will be decided. 

San Diego Wave predicted Starting XI: