The Washington Spirit (1-3-2) fell to the first-year team of the Utah Royals FC (1-1-4) this past Saturday, 2-0, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. It was the first-ever win for the Royals and both goals came from players previously coached by Spirit Head Coach Jim Gabarra.
Using a Spirit tactic of scoring early, Utah forward Kelly O’Hara took a pass from fellow teammate Amy Rodriguez and slipped the ball into the back of the net past the Spirit’s defense, her first goal as a Utah Royals player. Before joining the Royals, O’Hara played for Sky Blue FC during Gabarra’s tenure as head coach of that National Women’s Soccer League team.
When halftime arrived, the score had not changed; it was still 1-0 in favor of the Royals.
In the second half, an awesome sliding tackle by former Spirit player Diana Matheson in the 66th minute, led to the second goal of the match for the Royals. Matheson slid in under Spirit defender Estelle Johnson to steal the ball. Without losing stride, she popped right back up and chased the ball as Spirit keeper Audrey Bledsoe came way out of the box to close the angle on Matheson, but it was not enough. Matheson clipped the ball past Bledsoe into a wide open net.
Matheson has explosive speed and total lack of fear when attacking the ball. The sliding tackle she pulled on Johnson could have ended with one or both players carted off the field injured. Johnson’ right foot barely missed Matheson’s head as she slid under Johnson and Matheson’s cleats barely missed Johnson’s feet. Had it been any other two less-talented players, it could have easily become a scene of carnage. Instead, Matheson won the NWSL Player of the Week for week six.
Sitting in seventh place in the league now, the Spirit are slowly sinking back into a position they know all too well from last season, the bottom of the pack. Eight games have been played with 18 more to go in the season. It’s time for things to start coming together for the Spirit.
There is an amazing amount of young talent on the Spirit team. Teams beating the Spirit have a higher-average age compared to the Washington team.
Does this play into the axiom that age and experience always beats youth and agility? Not exactly, but pretty close.
Consider this last match. Matheson and O’Hara are older players compared to the Spirit. O’Hara is 29 and Matheson is 34. There are only three players on the Spirit older than O’Hara and only one older than Matheson. Using the most recent match as an example, there is something to be said for age and experience. In the match against the Chicago Red Stars, it was 28-year-old Alyssa Mautz who scored the goal for the Red Stars to bring the match to a draw.
Right now, the Spirit players are getting experience, experience at games ending in a draw or a loss. They are too talented to be ending matches this way.
In the match against the Red Stars, Coach Gabarra commented on how the performance of Spirit player Frannie Ordega has matured to the point where she is a player who can be counted on to be reliable and consistent throughout a full 90 minutes of a game. She is a rising star.
Spirit forward Mallory Pugh is incredibly talented, and probably one of the most talented young people in the sport. When Pugh joined the team, Gabarra said it would take time for her grow into her role.
Those are just two examples of the Spirit’s depth of young talent. There are so many other young players on the team who contribute greatly to the success the Spirit does earn. Never forget the contributions of Johanna Lohman and Tori Huster, who have the experience to show the younger players the ways of professional soccer.
The Spirit’s next match is against the North Carolina Courage on May 12 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Stay tuned. Maybe next week we can uncover where the Washington Spirit have hidden Rose Lavelle.
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