‘I’m loving life here’ – Casey Stoney looks to the future with San Diego Wave

(Shaina Benhiyoun/Sports Press Photo)

Casey Stoney has spoken of her continued contentment at managing San Diego Wave, with the former England captain recently committing her long-term future to the NWSL club.

The ex-Manchester United boss was one of the names linked in recent months to the upcoming vacancy at her former club Chelsea, with Emma Hayes OBE set to depart for the United States job at the end of the season, but Stoney signed a new contract in January.

The extension sees her commit to the Wave on a deal covering the 2027 NWSL season, ‘with a mutual option for 2028.’

The 130-cap former Lionesses defender saw her San Diego team lift the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup last night, beating 2023 Championship winners NJ/NY Gotham FC 1-0 (with an Alex Morgan goal) in the curtain-raiser for the new league season.

Ahead of the game, Stoney was asked by She Kicks in her press conference about being able to recharge ahead of the upcoming campaign, and the key reasons behind San Diego continuing to be the place for her.

“This tan, obviously!” she laughed. “I believed, when I was a player, in leaving the shirt in the right place, and now as a head coach, leaving the game in a better place.”

“I felt that coming here, I could have an impact, give the players a different experience coaching, and an environment, culture, where they feel valued, safe, cared for, challenged, developed, because I’d obviously read all the things that everybody else has read (about historical abuse in the NWSL), and I wanted to make sure that players knew that it isn’t the only way that things need to be done. I’ve been a player, I think I’ve experienced every single high and every single low in the game, and being able to manage the players in a different way doesn’t mean I don’t get it wrong; I do, absolutely.

“But I think coming over here was an exciting challenge, tactically, to bring something different as well; trying to influence the game to be less transitional, more control, whilst still playing at the high intensity that this league is. It’s fast; I’ve managed in England and this is a lot faster, a lot more intense.

“Going back on what the players were saying about the (demand of the game’s overall match) schedule, if we want to keep that intensity, we have to look after the players, we have to look after their bodies. So, I’m a big advocate for the players; I think the game is about the players.

“Without the players, we don’t have a game.”

Retiring from playing in 2018, Stoney took over as Manchester United manager following the reintroduction of the club’s women’s set-up, guiding her team to promotion from the Championship, before a pair of top-four WSL finishes.

Leaving United in May 2021, she would be confirmed as San Diego’s inaugural head coach two months later, ahead of the Wave’s first season the following year.

With a 3rd-place finish in 2022, Stoney’s side topped the regular-season table last year to lift the NWSL Shield, before being defeated in the play-off semi-final for the second successive season, this time by OL Reign (now Seattle Reign).

The Wave have now kicked off 2024 on a winning note, with Stoney reaffirming her belief that the NWSL possesses the most on-field parity among the world’s leading domestic competitions.

“I think this league is the most (competitive). Look at this league last season and how many teams could still qualify for the play-offs on the last day – that doesn’t happen in any other country, you’ve got two or three teams fighting it out.

“I think it tests you as a coach, it tests you as a manager, every single week, to find those fine margins and how you can win.”

The past week has brought reports (from Sportico) of the Wave being sold for an NWSL record of $120 million, with the Levine Leichtman family set to acquire the club from Ron Burkle, though Burkle will reportedly remain principal owner for the current season.

It comes in the same week as reports of their California rivals Angel City FC seeking new ownership.

For San Diego, the sale price quoted marks an astronomical increase in the club’s value over its short history, after the $2m that Burkle reportedly paid in expansion fees when they joined the NWSL.

Marketability of the league and its clubs seemingly continues to skyrocket, as a new year on the pitch begins with 14 teams, up from 12 in 2023 (with newcomers Bay FC and the relaunched Utah Royals joining).

Stoney’s sixth season in management, meanwhile, gets underway with her feeling suitably recharged, and eagerly chasing her first Championship crown in the U.S.

“I’m loving life here. My family is settled, I’ve got a fantastic group of players and staff around me, and we just want to continue to grow and build.”


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