Spirit Farm Teams: Near Futures 3, Far Futures 1

Wake Forest rising junior Maddie Huster (left) keeps an eye on Osbourn Park High School rising senior Myra Konte as Ashley Herndon (far left) looks on.

Wake Forest rising junior Maddie Huster (left) keeps an eye on Osbourn Park High School rising senior Myra Konte as Ashley Herndon (far left) looks on.

When the ageless Joanna Lohman was the general manager of the Washington Freedom’s elite amateur team, she decided they should be dubbed the “Futures” rather than the “Reserves”. Applying that to the Washington Spirit’s two WPSL teams, the Reserves and the Academy, you can think of them as the “Near Futures” and the “Far Futures.”

The Reserves have players available for professional appearances like emergency goalkeeper DiDi Haracic and draft pick Alli Murphy, as well as a healthy share of the U-23 national team roster. The Academy, meanwhile, have five players on the U-20 national team – who were not available for this game – along with a bevy of talented players of similar ages or even younger. In fact, head coach Larry Best started five players who have yet to play in college and subbed in three more.

Despite the age difference, it was an intensely competitive match. The Reserves had the talent, but the Academy had been brought up in the Braddock Road style and worked together extremely well. Both teams put on a demonstration of quality possession soccer.
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WPSL DC-Area Week Five Recap

(Why no Week 4 recap? Because none of the DC-area teams had home games that week.)

It’s a little hard to figure out where things stand since the WPSL has yet to update the schedule or standings even for games played over a week ago, but it’s pretty clear that the Spirit Academy and Spirit Reserves are the cream of the Colonial Division. Meanwhile, the ASA Chesapeake Charge, once the best of the mid-Atlantic WPSL teams, is in the bottom half of the standings. And this weekend, they played both Spirit teams in quick succession.
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Spirit win, 2-0, while remembering Orlando victims

On an emotional night at the Soccerplex, play stopped in the 49th minute as fans and players alike remembered those who were murdered.

On an emotional night at the Soccerplex, play stopped in the 49th minute as fans and players alike remembered those who were murdered in Orlando. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Spirit.)

Play-by-play announcer Michael Minnich was the first to recognize the 49th minute commemoration by falling silent. It took fans about ten seconds to join in. Play on the field ceased a few seconds later as – at Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra’s behest – Orlando’s Kristen Edmonds stopped with her foot on the ball. As the applause grew, Washington’s Diana Matheson suggested that Edmonds pass the ball back to her goalkeeper, and she did. Ashlyn Harris collected the ball and stood with it at her feet as she joined in the applause.

After fifteen seconds or so, Harris tapped her chest twice with her goalkeeper’s glove and touched her lips, then started moving the ball so she could put it back into play. While continuing to recognize the fan appreciation, she took it to just outside of the top of the box, then five seconds after the minute was over kicked it back into the midfield.

It was appropriate that Gabarra initiated the on-field commemoration, as he’s been there before. “9-11, we played a game up in New York. This was similar, with the fear and the effect that it has on everybody. I felt it was important for us to show a sign of unity. To be able to do what we did in the 49th minute where both teams stopped play, the ball wasn’t knocked out of bounds, the referee didn’t blow the whistle, we showed a sign of unity within the competitive environment for what’s happened. It was an important sign, and we were glad to do it.”

I doubt any of the 5,750 there (a Soccerplex WoSo record) will forget the moment, and it will certainly be remembered much longer than the game itself.
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WPSL DC-Area Week Two Recap

ASA Chesapeake Charge 2, Virginia Beach City FC 2

The Charge were supposed to kick off their 2016 season on Saturday, May 21, by hosting the Richmond Strikers, but that match was called off due to the weather.

Instead, on an unseasonably cool Tuesday evening, they hosted Virginia Beach at Arundel High School’s Carroll Field.

Chesapeake have lost some key players after several years of being a WPSL powerhouse, including forwards Laura Kane, Maria Kresge, and Cheyenne Skidmore; defender Jennifer Gillette; and goalkeepers Lyndse Hokanson and Erin Quinn. In fact, on this evening despite being the home team they had just twelve players. As a result, while they still play quality soccer they’re no longer quite so formidable.

As for the visitors, when the Virginia Beach Piranhas played in the W-League (before they folded after the 2013 season), they were notorious for their physical play. With a head coach (John Germanos) and assistant coach (the legendary Mercy Akide-Udoh) who coached and played for the Piranhas, respectively, it’s no surprise that this team is similar. This game featured numerous fouls, complaints from both benches about uncalled fouls, and at least three yellow cards.
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The League is Dead! Long Live the League!

United Women’s Soccer Rises from the Ashes of the W-League

The USL W-League set the standard for elite women’s amateur (and occasionally professional) soccer since its founding in 1995. So it was a great disappointment when the league – after losing teams for several years – folded last November. That left the Women’s Premier Soccer League as the only second-tier league in the United States, and the WPSL, while vast (103 teams this year), has a reputation more for allowing any team in that can afford the dues than maintaining high standards.

Into the breach stepped a number of teams frustrated with the situation, led by the New England Mutiny, who had already expressed dissatisfaction with the WPSL in a late-season press release.
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WPSL DC-area preview (and opening match) 2016

It’s a different landscape for elite women’s soccer in the DC-area this year. With the folding of the W-League, the Spirit Reserves and the Braddock Road Stars Elite (now the Washington Spirit Academy) have come over to the Women’s Premier Soccer League to help form the Colonial Division along with perennial WPSL powerhouse ASA Chesapeake Charge. This means that the Charge and the Spirit teams – long separated by the lack of love between the W-League and the WPSL – will finally play each other for the first time ever, and in home-and-home series. That’s certainly something I’m looking forward to.

The remaining teams in the division are Fredericksburg FC, the Richmond Strikers, and Virginia Beach City FC, but I’m just going to look at the aforementioned ones that I’ve been following.
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Chris’ 2018 NWSL Draft Big Board Top 50 – Sullivan Still #1

Positional Top Fives

GK

1. Casey Murphy – Rutgers
2. Cassie Miller – Florida State
3. Emily Boyd – Cal
4. Caitlyn Clem – Wisconsin
5. Anna Maddox – Samford

DEF

1. Jessie Scarpa – North Carolina
2. Emma Koivisto – Florida State
3. Brittany Basinger – Penn State
4. Hailey Harbison – Pepperdine
5. Michaela Abam – West Virginia

MF

1. Andi Sullivan – Stanford
2. Emily Ogle – Penn State
3. Mikaela Harvey – Texas A&M
4. Rachel Corboz – Georgetown
5. Gabby Seiler – Florida

FW

1. Frannie Crouse – Penn State
2. Megan Schafer – Penn State
3. Jorian Baucom – LSU
4. Ani Sarkisian – Michigan
5. Savannah McCaskill – South Carolina

Overall Top 50

1. Andi Sullivan – MF (DMC), D (CB) – Stanford

This shouldn’t shock anyone with even a remote sense of the college game, as Sullivan would probably get consideration as the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft were she in it. It’s one thing to come into DI with such monumental expectations as Sullivan did, it’s quite another to exceed those expectations as Sullivan certainly has. A former captain of the U.S. U20s, Sullivan was immediately one of the nation’s best in 2014 and a consensus Freshman of the Year as she helped Stanford to another successful season. She took it to another level this past season, winning first team All-America honors and ending up as a Hermann Trophy semi-finalist and will likely be a contender for the award her final two years on the farm as well. Has proven to be durable on the pitch and clutch for the Card as well, with some big goals for the club last year from her deep midfielder role. Can absolutely crush a ball and is a threat to rifle home shots from distance any time she gets a clear window to goal. Is savvy enough to play in a deep role in midfield or even at center-back, as she’s done with Stanford. It’s likely a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Sullivan gets called up to the full USWNT, and she’ll be hard to displace at the top of this list come draft day in 2018.

2. Jessie Scarpa – D (CB), F (CF) – North Carolina

Scarpa is one of many players in this class with a multitude of options as to where they might play at the next level after having featured in different positions in her two seasons thus far as one of UNC’s brightest young prospects. While still recovering from injury for much of her freshman year, Scarpa still shined quite brightly as a center-back for the Heels and was hardly overawed by the fierce competition of the ACC. But Scarpa tried a different role as a sophomore, fully healthy again, moving into a center forward role and leading the line in both a 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 for the Tar Heels. Eight goals and eight assists was an impressive return considering Scarpa had played a completely different role a season earlier, and it doesn’t seem too likely that Scarpa will be moving back to the backline for UNC any time soon, especially considering the scoring woes for the Heels otherwise. Efficiency numbers are a concern, but that’ll probably be reevaluated after another year of leading the line. A mainstay with the U20s for the U.S. during the current cycle, it would be a shock if Scarpa didn’t get the call for the final squad, and given some of the deficiencies of the current squad, the Tar Heel star may need to shine brightly for the U.S. to find glory in Oceania this Fall.

3. Frannie Crouse – F (CF, LF), MF (AML) – Penn State

Take the time to look up and down this list, and you’ll see that there just aren’t a lot of A-level forwards in this draft class, meaning someone like Crouse is going to rise to the top rather easily given her two seasons at PSU thus far. Crouse signed on to the college scene with a flourish in 2014, netting ten times on solid efficiency numbers and improved to eleven goals this past season while more than tripling her assist total with seven. Crouse’s efficiency numbers did dip considerably, as she took twenty-two more shots as a sophomore, but her shot on goal percentage did rise. More importantly, Crouse saved those goals for the biggest matches and did most of her damage against PSU’s toughest opponents in 2015, underlining her ability to get it done in the clutch. Coaches rave about Crouse’s workrate, and her closing speed to the ball is almost frightening at times. 2016 will be a big test for Crouse, as many of her teammates from last year’s national title winning team will be at the U20 World Cup, meaning the forward will have to carry her team on her back at times given the upheaval. If she can manage it, Crouse could all but solidify a spot near the top of the board going into her senior season.

4. Emily Ogle – MF (MC, AMC) – Penn State

The 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and likely member of the 2016 U20 World Cup team for the U.S., Ogle is another Penn State prospect who has played a vital role in the glories of the past two seasons, including 2015’s title winning campaign. Ogle played a bit of a deeper role in a 4-2-3-1 as a sophomore but still managed to make it work for her, netting seven goals on thirty-one shots and putting up a sterling 54.8% SOG mark, which is quite the impressive pair of stats for a central midfielder. Ogle was an absolute workhorse in the midfield last season, starting all twenty-seven matches and scarcely coming out for the national champion Nittany Lions. Proved to be a clutch player as well, netting four goals in the NCAA Tournament, including the winner in the quarterfinal against West Virginia. Perhaps overshadowed by Raquel Rodriguez last year in the center of the park, Ogle could be the center of attention the next time she steps foot on the pitch for PSU. Which might be in 2017, as the Ohio native, as stated above, figures to be in Papua New Guinea for the U20 World Cup this season for the U.S.

5. Emma Koivisto – D (RB, CB) – Florida State

Full Finnish international is already a key component to the overall growth of women’s footy in her homeland as a part of the full WNT. Already in double digits in caps for Finland, Koivisto will be key for the country’s hopes of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2017 next Summer, but she’s already proven to be a major influence in Tallahassee as well in her two seasons with the Seminoles. Another in the long line of marauding international full-backs that have come through the FSU program like France’s Ines Jaurena, Koivisto won a starting spot as a rookie here right away and hasn’t looked back, missing time only for international call-ups for qualifiers for Finland. Didn’t quite match the offensive statistics that she put up as a rookie but was part of a backline that was just as stout as it had been in the past few years. As is the case with almost every international that comes through Tallahassee, the question is whether Koivisto will stay on these shores or chase the money in Europe. Either way, there shouldn’t be any shortage of suitors for the Finnish full-back.
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Spirit continue to roll with 1-0 win over Dash

Goal-scorer Lohman looks for passing options with Estefania Banini and Crystal Dunn looking on.

Goal-scorer Lohman looks for passing options with Estefania Banini and Crystal Dunn looking on.

It can’t be much fun playing the Spirit. When you’ve got the ball, they’re after you no matter where it is on the field, whether it’s Crystal Dunn making your goalkeeper hurry her punt or Ali Krieger man-marking your flank run. When they’ve got the ball, it becomes a game of keep-away that they’re becoming experts at.

On that note, I can’t believe more of a fuss isn’t being made of the 50-second, 17-pass sequence that led to their lone goal. If DC United had done the same thing it would have made SportsCenter. To recap:

37:21 – Stephanie Labbé sends a goalkick to midfield.
37:24 – Tori Huster heads it to her right.
37:30 – Christine Nairn tracks it down and sends it on to Ali Krieger.
37:32 – Krieger sends a backpass that Megan Oyster either taps or just dummies.
37:35 – Labbé kicks the ball forward again.
37:39 – Nairn saves the ball right before it goes out-of-bounds and sends it to Krieger.
37:43 – Krieger passes it to Huster on her left.
37:44 – Huster one-touches a lob across the midfield stripe.
37:46 – Cali Farquharson comes running back and saves possession by heading it on one bounce to Joanna Lohman.
37:47 – Lohman one-touches it to her right to Nairn on the right sideline.
37:53 – Nairn starts to bring the ball forward but then turns and passes it back to Krieger.
37:57 – Krieger brings it forward a few yards and then passes it forward to Diana Matheson on the right sideline.
38:00 – Matheson has a poor first touch but hustles to maintain possession and pass it back to Nairn.
38:01 – Nairn one-touches it forward to Dunn.
38:05 – Dunn dodges around trying to find a way in but gives up and passes it back to Krieger.
38:07 – Krieger collects the ball, then finds an open Nairn making a run down the right sideline.
38:10 – Nairn runs to the ball and with her first touch sends a high ball to Lohman, who’s wide open in the goalmouth.
38:12 – Lohman heads the ball off the underside of the crossbar and in.

Almost a minute of possession with every player involved except the left side backs Shelina Zadorsky and Alyssa Kleiner (who can take some credit as they helped ensure the goal kick that started it all). See it all at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUyoeiCSp0U&feature=youtu.be&t=2697

With this year’s almost impregnable Spirit defense, that was all that was needed for the win. “Our back line is so tough, and in training I’m like, ‘You guys are brick walls,’ said Crystal Dunn after the game. “I’m just so happy that translates into the games. They are so connected and they rely on each other and they work hard for each other.”

The scary thing is that this team hasn’t peaked yet: Dunn scored fifteen goals last year, better than a goal every two hours of playing time, but hasn’t scored yet this year. Of the other forwards, Katie Stengel has a tap-in on a ball that looked to be going in anyway, and that’s it.

As with last week, the team and Dunn seemed to get more threatening late. “There was about a 10-15 minute period in the second half where we needed to put one in to kind of put this game away,” said Diana Matheson after the game. But Houston Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams made a succession of big saves to thwart any game-clincher.

“We’ve just got some players maybe pressing a bit, needing a goal,” said Jim Gabarra, “and once they come I think it will be a lot smoother.”

It’s not that Dunn is playing hurt as she has for much of her Spirit career – last year we would tease her about how many icepacks she had on her as she gimped over to the post-game press scrum. This year, we noticed that she ran over to us, icepack-free.

No icepacks? “No! I’m feeling strong and healthy.”

Bothered by not scoring? “It’s fine. My team’s winning. I mean, that’s the only way I’m justified in not scoring. As a forward, I feel like my job is to score, but at the end of the day we’re getting points, and we’re rockin’ it, so it’s all good.”

Meanwhile, the surprise of the team so far this year has to be Joanna Lohman, at 33 the oldest player on the team and (so far as I can tell) the second-oldest field player in the league (after Christie Rampone). But for now only two players in the league have more goals than her: Christen Press and teammate Diana Matheson.

Seven years ago – during the first season of WPS – Gabarra cut her from the roster when you would have thought she was in her prime. Now that she’s at an age when most players have long retired, it’s a different story. “She does a lot of the dirty work, and she manages to get the job done,” he said. “She does a lot of things in the midfield, there, and the team plays off of her. I think she’s a little bit the soul of the team.”

“Jo is a workhorse,” added Dunn. “Ever since she’s been on the team, she’s been nothing but energy and it’s just incredible. I mean at her age, she’s outrunning everybody and I’m trying to keep up with her.”

With the first quarter of the season done, the Spirit are in first place with thirteen points, three clear of the Chicago Red Stars. But their next three games are on the road, where historically the Spirit have done very poorly. But once they’ve played at Portland, Houston, and Boston, we should have a much better idea of whether or not they’re for real this year.

Spirit vs. Thorns: Battle for 1st ends in scoreless draw

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

The Washington Spirit are still waiting for production from their bevy of forwards. Other than a late tap-in last week from Katie Stengel on a ball that looked to be going in already, all the goals have come from defenders or midfielders. Against the Portland Thorns, the failure to get the ball in the net cost them two standings points in a match when they were clearly the better team on the night.

The good news – surprising given the past for both the Spirit and head coach Jim Gabarra, whose teams have been much more known for scoring than prevention thereof – is that the defense has been stalwart, allowing just one goal in four matches and currently riding a 204-minute shutout streak. But for a perfect sequence of passes that led to a Maya Hayes goal for Sky Blue in the 66th minute of that match, they could have four clean sheets instead of just three.
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