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NWSL's San Diego Wave bring soccer and stability to Southern California

Yardbarker logo Yardbarker 3/22/2023 Alyssa Clang, Yardbarker
San Diego Wave FC forward Alex Morgan. © Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports San Diego Wave FC forward Alex Morgan.

Women's soccer expansion teams aren't always known for their seriousness or stability — just look at the curious case of MagicJack in Boca Raton. But the NWSL's San Diego Wave hope to buck that trend.

"My feeling coming into [San Diego] was that it was somewhere that really wanted to be professional, top to bottom, and create a culture that was one where players were safe and players were put first," midfielder Maggie Howard told ESPN. "That would allow having a successful product on the field, and that's something I haven't been in before."

The Wave entered the NWSL on, well, a wave of that professionalism and positivity. After signing U.S. legend Alex Morgan to lead the front line and talented rookie Naomi Girma to hold things down in defense, the expansion club dominated its first season in 2022. It finished first in the table and made it all the way to the championship playoffs.

Hopes are high in San Diego as the Wave enter its second season and the NWSL enters its 10th. The club is continuing to care for its players by scaffolding its starting 11 with exciting rookie prospects.

"We can't rely so heavily on one goal-scorer [Alex Morgan]," coach Casey Stoney told the San Diego Union Tribune. "Albeit, she's a great player — but we want to get more attacking players in the right area to score goals. It's not about taking away from Alex; we still want Alex to contribute to those goals."

Part of this attacking growth involves young Melanie Barcenas, a local prodigy who recently became the youngest-ever NWSL signing at 15 years old. She joined the San Diego Wave on Tuesday after fending off intense interest from other clubs in the league.

"We're very happy that Melanie and her family have decided to entrust her hometown club as the place for her to begin her professional career," Stoney said. "We're excited to maximize her potential through the coming years...while ensuring she retains some routine and normalcy of being a teenager."

Barcenas is a massive coup for a franchise that was already on its way to being a championship contender. Fans of the Wave agree — they've responded to signings like Barcenas by turning up en masse to Snapdragon Stadium. The Wave broke the NWSL's attendance record last year when 32,000 fans showed up to watch them beat local rivals Angel City FC; they'll aim to break it again as the 2023 season kicks off this weekend. With the women's World Cup happening this July in Australia and New Zealand, interest in the game should reach an all-time high.

"We know that the World Cup invites tailwinds to this league historically and as recently as 2019," commissioner Jessica Berman told ESPN. "We're going to be really intentional in our partnership with U.S. Soccer to invite those tailwinds in."

With a passionate fan base, a beautiful stadium and a team moving from strength to strength, the San Diego Wave could benefit massively from those tailwinds. Their goal is to win the NWSL — and to do so with more eyes on the league than ever before. But they're going to do it with the same seriousness and stability that got them here in the first place.

"The biggest thing I've tried to do — and I will always learn from — is listening to my players," Stoney confirmed. "They're the ones having to do the work."

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