The San Diego A wave broke through Snapdragon Stadium, setting a National Women’s Soccer League attendance record Saturday night as more than 32,000 fans watched in a 1-0 victory over expansion team Angel City.
Meanwhile, the Wave crowd surpassed the 25,000 ticket holders who attended a Portland Thorns game in 2019 to set NWSL record, watching the first-year club return to the top of the league table.
It was 30 minutes before the crowd, pumped up from whistle to whistle and led by a group of Sirens supporters, were rewarded with a goal when 17-year-old Jaydin Shaw scored the first goal in Snapdragon Stadium history with a header from a pass from Sofia Jokobsson. Shaw, a U.S. junior star, joined the Wave in July after being cleared to participate in the league’s midseason opening process, waiving NCAA eligibility and allowing her to turn pro before the 2023 draft. Shaw has now scored in every professional game she has played.
In the 71st minute, Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan shut down Angel City’s best chance of the night, diving to her right to save a penalty, then missing the rebound and smothering the ball before flashing an ear-to-ear smile at three defenders who stand over her. Angel City never threatened again and the game ended 1-0.
Prior to moving to Snapdragon Stadium, built by San Diego State University primarily for the use of its football team, the Wave’s home for its first season was the 6,000-capacity Torero Stadium.
The team said they sold out those games, but their plan to move into a brand new 32,000-capacity stadium nonetheless caught many by surprise.
NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said the record attendance offered a “proof of concept”.
“People will appreciate our league the way we appreciate ourselves,” she said. “When you play in small stadiums, it feels like we are not a real professional league and it will be difficult for us to earn the respect and authority that we want. We showed up in a 32,000-seat stadium and a lot of people said, “That’s a lot of seats to fill,” especially when San Diego was playing in a 6,000-seat stadium. Jill Ellis called me at the beginning of the summer and said, “We’re going to sell everything.”
Ellis, the club president who won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups as coach of the U.S. women’s national team, said the attendance made a statement.
“We want to make a big splash – and even though this is a show to say, ‘Hey, we’re here and we can break records’, to be fair to ourselves, we’re just getting started,” she said. “A realistic goal is to grow from that and have a crowd that competes with the other top teams week in and week out.”
Snapdragon Stadium was still under construction in May when the Wave began its inaugural season, leaving the team to begin its existence at the smaller Torero Stadium. Splitting the season between the two stadiums also meant they could not sell season tickets this year.
That meant the team had to push single-game tickets for its new stadium debut with a purpose — an effort Ellis hopes will pay off with next year’s season tickets. She said she expects the team to draw a steady attendance of about 15,000 to 20,000 a night next year, which is comparable to Angel City and the Thorns.
Among the team’s ticketing strategies was a ‘Battle of the Clubs’ competition between the region’s youth football clubs, in which the club that sold the most tickets (ultimately CITY SC) won a free training session under Wave coach Casey Stoney and a donation to their fund financial assistance.
Ellis had experience with San Diego as a soccer club before joining the Wave; for more than ten years as a coach of the university California Los Angeles, she recruited the region heavily.
“There’s just great football tradition and history here and Clash of the Clubs was a great way to bring that to life,” she said. “This is a city that just wants to hug you.”
2022 continued to be a big year for women’s sports. It is visible the biggest fight in women’s boxing historyBarcelona two record crowdsa record crowd in the Women’s Champions League to see Lyon beat PSG in France and a sold-out crowd for Angel City’s home debut in April.
“We now know what may have been the question for a number of years is that if women’s sports, and the NWSL in particular, is given the opportunity to succeed, it can be and it is,” Berman said. “In 2022, we have different evidence.”
For 39-year-old Chelsi Klasus, the appearance on the “Wave” has been waiting for a long time.
When she was 16, her parents took her to the 1999 World Cup semi-final match against Brazil. When the World Cup was held in Canada in 2015, she again went to the game in Vancouver with her parents and brother. Four years later, the family caught three games together in France. They are going to Australia again next year.
But first, they were part of Saturday night’s record-breaking crowd — albeit with her brother, a Los Angeles native, wearing an Angel City Soccer Club scarf.
Before the NWSL graced San Diego with a wave, Klasus had to make do with the women’s national team playing a handful of games at Qualcomm Stadium, all well attended, before it was demolished to make way for the smaller Snapdragon Stadium when the San Diego Chargers moved to Los Angeles.
“I always just knew that with the right team, the right stadium and the right time, it would come together with the NWSL in San Diego,” she said.
The Wave’s big night came when the team didn’t even have the full attention of the area’s soccer community: Just five miles away, the San Diego Loyal of the United Soccer League played in the Wave’s old home at Torero Stadium.
However, the triumphant evening also followed a strong start for the Snapdragon Stadium. SDSU’s first game at the stadium was it overshadowed by record heat in the areacombined with the lack of shade in the recreation area, resulted in approximately 200 heat-related medical calls and more than a dozen people taken to the hospital.