Will Pugh be the shot in the arm the Spirit need?

xSpirit vs FCKC 1b 20170520 Cheyna Williams follows the ball to the keepers box but is prevented from scoring by Becky Sauerbrunn and FCKC keeper Nicole Narnhart. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE   FC Kansas City (2-2-2), who had never defeated the Spirit on their home field, ended that streak this past weekend with a 1-0 win over the Spirit. It was FCKC’s second win of the season which puts them in sixth place in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The Spirit are now at the bottom of the league’s point standings. This is something new for the team that has been to the playoffs three of the last four seasons.
Taking some of the edge off the loss was the premiere of Mallory Pugh playing her first professional game in the NWSL. Pugh made the decision to withdraw from UCLA and move on to the professional level team, measuring her options domestically and in foreign leagues. A personal visit from Jim Gabarra, Spirit head coach and general manager, may have swayed Pugh’s decision to stay in the States and join the Washington Spirit.
The crowd and the media on hand for the match were eager to see Pugh on the pitch. TV crews from three outlets were on site (technically two outlets since one outlet owns one of the others), and there was no shortage of reporters from well-known news outlets. The game wasn’t lacking for photographers either. One would have thought this was a playoff match, not a game between two teams at the lower end of the league rankings.
The media and 3714 fans wanted to see Pugh on the pitch, but Coach Gabarra did not cede to the desire of the crowd. Pugh started in the second half of the game in the 54th minute. She was welcomed by a very enthusiastic crowd. Pugh made her presence felt on the field very quickly, with her ability to move the ball and misdirect people marking her.
If you need someone to compare her footwork to, use Tobin Heath. Pugh made Heath-level moves with the ball as she made opportunities for herself, although none of those opportunities resulted in balls in the back of the net.
The Washington Spirit could not close on at least three chances to score in the first half. Arielle Ship, Kristie Mewis, and Francisca Ordega all had shots that missed their marks. The score at halftime could have easily seen the Spirit with three goals. It was not just the Spirit’s slightly off shots, credit for the lack of goals could readily be associated with the brick wall of FCKCs defense.
In the second half, the Spirit emerged energized, going into full-on attack mode. The Spirit dominated the ball, keeping the attack coming from midfield, and not allowing FCKC to get the ball into the Spirit’s defensive third as they did in the first half. In the end, the Spirit was able to keep their loss to only one goal. Even so, FCKC moved up in the standings, while the Spirit stayed at the bottom.
At the risk of using an overused term for DC professional teams, this is a rebuilding year for the Spirit. The season is not even a third of the way complete. The Seattle Reign had a bad start last season and finished well in the league. Such may be the fate for the Spirit. They are improving every week. Their injured starters will start returning in the next couple of weeks along with Tori Huster, who was out with an injury this week.
The Spirit play FCKC again this coming weekend on their home field, Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City. June 3rd will see the return of the Spirit to their home field to play the Houston Dash at 7 p.m.
The lack of wins is not limited to the Spirit. DC United (2-4-1) also lost another match this past weekend as well, falling to Chicago Fire (5-0-1) 1-0. The United’s next home game will be at 7 p.m. on June 3rd in RFK Stadium. DC United also sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 11 points.
Hopefully, the season for both teams can only get better.

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