Casey Stoney on coaching San Diego, Pride Month and leaving family behind | Women’s football


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“It’s been a massive challenge, but a great learning curve for me,” Casey Stoney reflects after a whirlwind few months as head coach of one of the NWSL’s newest sides, San Diego Wave. The expansion team are currently riding high at the top of the league, having already won more games than ever before by a club in their debut year.

Leaving Manchester United after three years in charge, Stoney decided to step out of her comfort zone and move halfway across the world. Despite loving her new environment, it has not been without its difficulties. Visa issues meant that she had to make the move alone, leaving her partner Megan back in England with their three children. Thankfully, the situation has been resolved and her family will join her in due course, but Stoney describes leaving them as the “hardest thing I’ve ever done”.

One would imagine starting a new team from scratch would be a daunting prospect for any manager, but Stoney has approached the task with a typically cool head. After all, it is not her first rodeo having taken on a similar project with United back in 2018. “I think where other people maybe panic about stuff or think we’re not going to get players, I’m quite calm because I’m like, ‘They will come’,” she says. “We’re in an incredible city. We’re building something new and exciting.”

For Stoney, establishing a strong environment is key. “I did a lot of research, and I came over with my eyes very much wide open,” she says. “One thing I was very aware of was that some of them have been in environments where it hasn’t been conducive for them to be able to perform. I wanted to create something with the club where it’s different. Where there isn’t a fear of making mistakes and where they do have psychological safety.”

There are, of course, differences to her time in England. The rules in the US mean that she has had less control over player recruitment, acquiring them through drafts as well as trades. Instead of starting with young players at the age of 16, she now works with them at 22 when they have emerged from the education system: “They do come out of college, in my opinion, not really prepared for the professional game. It gives us a challenge in the first year – we’re going to have to go on a journey with a lot of them to get them prepared.”

Fans do the mexican wave at the game between the San Diego Wave FC and the NJ/NY Gotham FC in May.
Fans do the mexican wave at the game between the San Diego Wave FC and the NJ/NY Gotham FC in May. Photograph: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Nevertheless, she is keen to stress the quality of youth she has in her ranks and does not shy away from giving them opportunities. Naomi Girma, for example, “looks like a veteran” and has played consistently, recently being named the NWSL’s “Rookie of the Month”. This youth, blended with the experience of Alex Morgan and Jodie Taylor, has made Stoney’s job enjoyable: “They’re a great group. They’re so coachable. They want to learn, and they want to do well. When you’ve got a group like that, as a head coach, it’s a dream.”

Other contrasts include the athleticism and the transitional nature of the league: “I came off the game the other day thinking I’m going to go grey so early over here. You feel like you can score and concede in the same phase of play. It’s fast; it’s end-to-end; it’s transitional. There’s probably not as much desire to keep the ball, which is something I’m trying to improve.”

Community foundations are key to American clubs. The Wave have been welcomed enthusiastically by their growing supporter base at the Torero Stadium. “I’ve never encountered anything like it,” enthuses Stoney. “The crowds here are unbelievable. We’re getting over 5,000 every game; that’s standard for us. At United, I wasn’t getting that and you think about how big it is with that brand and that badge. That’s a definite difference that I’ve seen here. The ability to get out into the local community and drive the fan base from there.” In September, Wave will be moving to the Snapdragon Stadium, a 35,000-seater arena, an exciting prospect as the club continues to grow.

Alex Morgan (right) in action against OL Reign in June.
Alex Morgan (right) in action against OL Reign in June. Photograph: Justin Fine/CSM/Shutterstock

Work in the community includes occasions such as Pride Night, held at Torero for the first time last week, that help to educate and bring visibility. LGBTQIA+ rights are close to Stoney’s heart and she is passionate about her club standing up for what they believe: “If I’m honest, it’s really needed here because there are some states that are going backwards. It’s important. I’ve got Megs and the three kids, and I want them to grow up in a society where it’s not an issue.”

With the NWSL only a couple of months in, Stoney will have a busy summer in California. However, she will have one eye firmly fixed back home as England host the European Championship this summer. “I had 18 years as a Lioness so it’s deep-rooted in my heart. I’ll follow them every step of the way. I think they’ve got an incredible manager who knows how to win it. And we’ve got a good blend of experience and youth … It’s [about] the players going out there and seeing it as an opportunity, not a threat. What an opportunity they have to change the game forever.”

Quote of the week

“It took me until I met Megs maybe and had the kids to be comfortable in my own skin … because you’re taught to conform and that it’s not normal. Like what is normal? And that’s what I teach the kids. Families look different; everybody looks different. If we’re all the same, it’d be so boring” – Stoney on the importance of Pride Month.

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