Prior big games dress rehearsal San Diego Wave FC need in new home opener

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Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

They are not strangers to large crowds this year.

The 2022 NWSL season has been a big step forward in terms of stadium attendance. After two years of no or limited fans at games, a return to “regular” life again, plus the addition of expansion teams San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC, and some teams changing venues, the attendance numbers have never been better, truly.

On Saturday, the biggest night yet comes in league history, as Wave FC are anticipating a full sellout of 32,000, when they host Angel City FC in a SoCal derby. This attendance should take the top slot all-time in a single-game attendance in the NWSL, a landmark night for the club and league alike.

A few years ago, an NWSL team deciding to move into a 32,000 capacity stadium would have been frowned upon, with no team other than the Portland Thorns averaging more than 10,000 fans a game across a season. Some of that was due to stadia used, some of that was due to lack of really capturing a market for a team. But we seem to be in an NWSL 2.0 moment now, with Saturday’s game surely to be a tentpole of this new era.

On the bright side for Wave FC, while they’ll be playing in front of the biggest audience they’ve ever seen in their short history, they do have experience playing in front of sizable crowds so far this year:

Apr. 17: 3-2 loss at Providence Park vs. Portland Thorns (12,440) July 9: 2-1 loss at Banc of California Stadium vs. Angel City FC (22,000) July 30: 1-0 win at Soldier Field over Chicago Red Stars (23,951) Aug. 27: 2-0 win at Providence Park over Portland Thorns (18,624)

That San Diego have a 2W-2L-0D record in these four games is notable, as perhaps is the fact the losses have been by a goal.

After defeating the Red Stars at Soldier Field, San Diego head coach Casey Stoney admitted she was impressed with her team digging in against a large and hostile crowd.

“Amazing for the women’s game,” she said. “Amazing for us as a team. I thought the atmosphere was incredible, they need to play here more [Soldier Field]. It is quite intimidating. The difference between us playing here and at The Banc, was having those experienced players with calm heads on the pitch. They could dictate the game and stay in it when we needed to. We went down to 10 [women on the field] with 30 minutes left to play on the field with the crowd against you. This is not easy and we needed our experienced players to put a shift in. I am really proud of everybody — I have never had to ask Alex Morgan to defend as much as she did.”

So San Diego have experienced the big crowds, and they have weathered being the opposing team pretty well so far. What about with them being the home team? Angel City are sure to have a sizable number of fans at the game on Saturday due to the proximity between San Diego and Los Angeles, but it seems a good bet Wave FC will have a friendly crowd.

The job of the home team, therefore, changes in preparing for this game.

“It’s a massively exciting occasion for us as a club. It’s a momentous sell-out record. My job as a head coach is to make sure I focus on the game and that there are very few distractions for what we want to achieve, how we want to play, what our game plan is, and giving the players the belief and the detail to be able to execute,” Stoney told reporters on Thursday during the club’s media availability.

Every game is different, and Saturday’s game will be a standout occasion for Wave FC and the NWSL. But unlike past years, where only a trip to Portland and the occasional other one-off around the league would result in a huge crowd, this won’t be an alien concept to San Diego. Their moment is here and they seem ready for it.

“We know we are going to have 32,000 and most of them are going behind us. It should give us an edge and give them something to cheer about. We also know that comes with an element of pressure too, it’s my job to take that off the players and focus on the game and our game plan,” said Stoney.

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