Preseason match shines on a rookie

UNC’s Nicole Crutchfield rushes the ball while Washington Spirit’s Estefania Banini interferes with her progress. The two teams closed the match with a 1-1 draw. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFEUNC’s Nicole Crutchfield rushes the ball while Washington Spirit’s Estefania Banini moves to block. The two teams ended the match with a 1-1 draw. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE  LEESBURG, VA — As the match started between the Washington Spirit and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels women’s soccer team at the Evergreen Soccer Complex, players who were not starters were bundled up in official Washington Spirit winter-ready warmup jackets. The starters were rubbing their hands together, donning gloves, their breath creating a fog in the air, jumping about to stay warm and loose.
By the end of two 45-minute periods of play, both teams were sweat-soaked, steaming in the cold air, and looking at a final score of 1-1. After the obligatory post-match handshakes, the players made a straight line for the locker rooms, skipping the warm down that usually follows. It was cold.
Preseason games are where rookies get their chance to earn a spot on the team while seasoned veterans need to prove they can retain their spot on the team. The Spirit opened their preseason playing against the Tar Heels, a team known for delivering national championships and professional players. They did not disappoint when playing the Spirit on this past Saturday.


Seattle Reign supreme over Washington Spirit in final game of the season, 3-2

Seattle Reign vs. Washington Spirit 9 30 17Spirit midfielder Tori Huster slows Beverly Yanez’s movement towards the ball as Mallory Pugh closes in from behind for the steal. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE  BOYDS — Sitting at the bottom of the National Women’s Soccer League’s standings, the only improvement the Washington Spirit could have gained Saturday by winning their match against the Seattle Reign FC would have been ninth place. Unfortunately, even that small victory was not to be; The Spirit lost to The Reign at Maureen Hendricks Field, 3-2.


Washington Spirit fall to North Carolina Courage

Spirit vs. CouragePitted against the league leaders in the National Women’s Soccer League on their home pitch, the Washington Spirit (4-10-4) fell 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage (13-5-0) this past Saturday. The North Carolina Courage was the team to beat as they’re at the top of the league with 39 points. The next closest team is the Portland Thorns with 34 points. Unless the Courage fall apart in the next few weeks, they will be the league champions of the NWSL.


Spirit back on the bottom again

On Saturday, the Washington Spirit (4-9-4) took on the Boston Breakers (3-7-7). A win would have moved the Spirit into eighth place. Instead they came up with a 2-2 draw, dropping them back into last place in the league. While the Spirit has 16 points, the same number as the Boston Breakers, their larger negative goal differential, -7, puts them back on the bottom. It’s hard to see a team with a storied reputation for being formidable league leaders sitting at the bottom of the rankings.
The Spirit has played matches where it looks like they are going to turn a corner towards stringing some wins together. Most recently they played Sky Blue FC on Saturday, Aug. 4. They won that match 4-1. All four Spirit goals were in the second half showing off their physical stamina and mental willingness to play hard until the end.
Four days later, the team who had just crushed Sky Blue FC is playing the Orlando Pride in Orlando. Orlando, like Washington was coming into this match with only four days since their last match. The Pride controlled the pitch and left the Spirit with zero goals while scoring three of their own. Orlando added three points to their standings, the Spirit added none.


Okay . . . we’ll call it a draw - Spirit vs. Pride

1010 20170708 Spirit vs PrideOrlando’s Alex Morgan and The Spirit’s Estelle Johnson (24) match strides during Morgan's attack on goal getting off her shot. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE  BOYDS — The Washington Spirit took on the Orlando Pride this past Saturday in front of a home crowd of over 5200. At the end of the match, it was a draw, earning both teams one point in the league standings.
In the 10th minute of the match a penalty kick was awarded to the Pride. Brazilian soccer player Marta took the shot and put the Pride up 1-0 over the Spirit. Head coach Jim Gabarra said it was an “unearned penalty” that put the Pride up so early in the game.
For the next 10 minutes, the Spirit looked a bit flat. Marta went the other way and used the goal to energize herself. It was not very long, 10 minutes or so further into the match it all changed.


Boston Breakers break Washington Spirit 1-0

Washington Spirit LogoAn ambitious Washington Spirit team (3-6-2) ended their 3-match undefeated streak, losing 1–0 against the Boston Breakers (3-6-3) on the Breakers home field. Now sitting at the bottom of the league, the Spirit have nowhere to go but up. Matches played away from their home field of Maureen Hendricks Field have not been good for the Spirit’s standings in the league. They have not won a match on the road this season.
The match in Boston was really a three-way match between the Breakers, the Spirit, and the wind whipping down the Charles River. Regular gusts were clocked at 20-plus miles per hour. In the first half, the winds worked in the Spirit’s favor; in the second half, not so much. Any ball lofted more than head height was subject to the whims of the wind. A ball set on the ground for play restarts, corner kicks, and goal kicks would not stay where placed if a gust of wind came in, and the wind came in often.


The Washington Spirit dull the Thorns

1010b 20170624 Spirit vs ThornsThorns’ Amandine Henry (28) goes one-on-one with the Spirit's Cheyna Williams (20). Williams won possession but committed a foul, forcing a turnover of the ball over to the Thorns.    PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFEOn a gorgeous Saturday evening at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, the Washington Spirit (3-5-2) defeated the Portland Thorns (4-3-3) 1-0 in front of 4,319 spectators.
Let me reemphasize that statement. The Spirit won! That makes three matches in a row where they have not been defeated this season. This is the best knitting of undefeated games by the Spirit yet this season. As a result, the Spirit is moving up in the standings as their injured players return to form on the pitch and the team continues to gel as an organized unit.


The Canadian Connection

Labbé Zadorsky 1bThe Washington Spirit’s Shelina Zadorsky holds back the progress of an opposing player while teammate Stephanie Labbé goes for a grip on the ball, a familiar strategy that Labbé calls “for sure normal.” PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE  Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Canadians Stephanie Labbé and Shelina Zadorsky for an exclusive interview about their second year with the Washington Spirit as professional soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League.
This year, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra has implemented multiple systems of play. At least one of them features a three-back defensive line versus a more traditional four-back defensive line. I asked Labbé and Zadorsky their thoughts on this system.
Labbé said, “I think the four-back is more natural. I think growing up that’s what we play all through the youth systems. I think that the three-back, it’s a new system. If you tactically have the right coaching and can really structurally break it down and be efficient in it, I think the three-back is a great tool to have. You have to have the right players that can fit the positions of that. Defensively the four-back is much more natural to so many people. Your instincts just go with it a lot better so it is easier to play.”


Spirit drop another one on the road to Kansas City

A rematch from one week earlier, the Washington Spirit (1-5-1) vs FC Kansas City (3-2-2) ended with the Spirit dropping the match 3-2 Saturday, losing another match by a single point. In previous years, the Spirit built a reputation of being a team who could beat anyone. This year is turning out very differently.


Spirit wins, Pugh scores, expectations met

Corner Kick WashSpirit vs. Houston Dash 1 1477Spirit teammates swarm Mallory Pugh after she scores her first goal as a professional soccer player. PHOTO BY DAVID WOLFE  BOYDS — On a beautiful summer evening at Maureen Hendricks Field in front of 3,096 fans, the Washington Spirit (2-5-1) outplayed the Houston Dash (2-6-0) for a 2-0 win.
Showcasing Mallory Pugh’s second start in the NWSL, the Spirit opened the match with speed and a dynamic attack. The speed caught the Dash by surprise and allowed Cheyna Williams to score the first goal of the game in the third minute. Havana Solaun of the Spirit provided the perfect pass to Williams that allowed her to slot the shot into the back of the net.
Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra had said two weeks earlier that when the team does not score in the first 20 minutes of home games, they tend to lose the match. The early goal by Williams was an excellent indicator of the final outcome.

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