Author Archives: Kevin Parker

WPSL DC-Area End of Season: Not with a Bang

Braddock Road captain and U-23 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl should be one of their few longtime veterans back next season.

Braddock Road captain and U-23 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl should be one of their few longtime veterans back next season. (Photo by Larry J. Clark)

Last Saturday I turned off of Braddock Road onto Sideburn Road and approached the vicinity of the Robinson High School turf field that the Stars Elite play on. I was somewhat nonplussed to note the dearth of vehicles parked by the side of the road, though I quickly realized the game must have been cancelled for some reason. Sure enough, once I parked and came over, I found head coach Larry Best, operations manager Margie Madsen, the referees, and two ballgirls and their parents. But no players: the Legacy-W76 team out of Williamsburg had – according to Madsen – dithered since the previous evening over whether or not to make the trip with just eight or nine players and had even set off, but at Richmond turned around and went back home. Best said they’d have been willing to loan them some players and play for fun, but that offer was not accepted.

So I was deprived of one last opportunity to see the phenomenal young Aria Nagai – “the best 15-year-old in the country” according to Best – as well as longtime Braddock Road mainstays like Natalie Larkin and Rachel Moore, who will almost certainly find better things to do with their summers after graduation than play in the WPSL. Best expects Larkin to move into the real world while he sees Moore playing overseas somewhere. Meanwhile, star player and U-23 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl – a red-shirt sophomore at Penn State – should be around for another couple of years.

On top of that, a few days later I received a couple of messages from Washington Spirit Reserves assistant coach J.P. Sousa indicating that the Reserves would not be participating in the WPSL playoffs because they couldn’t be assured of having enough players for the championship round. That’s what happened last year: the Reserves participated in and won the East Conference, then found they wouldn’t be able to muster enough players, so the Boston Breakers Reserves went in their stead and ended up as WPSL champions, despite Washington beating them, 3-1, in the East final. They thought it was unfair to have that happen again, and I have to agree with them.
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Early July twists and turns in WPSL’s Colonial Division

Braddock Road's Aria Nagai - "the best 15-year-old in the country" according to her coach.

Braddock Road’s Aria Nagai – “the best 15-year-old in the country” according to her coach.

(All game photographs courtesy of Larry J. Clark)

The big match of the weekend looked to be the July 7 match with the Richmond Strikers versus the Washington Spirit Reserves, big enough that I decided to drive down for it – on a Friday afternoon, no less. Both teams were vying for first place in the Colonial Division and the sole playoff spot that went with it. For the Reserves, it was close to a must-win as they’d already dropped points in two matches while the Strikers had only dropped points in one.

While I was driving down, meanwhile, the resurgent Braddock Road Stars Elite were taking on Virginia Beach City. Out of goalkeepers, they drafted defensive midfielder Rachel Moore to play in the net. “Rachel was brilliant in goal,” said head coach Larry Best. “Rachel saved a PK. And nobody knew that she wasn’t a goalie, 5’10”, 5’11”, and she’s a good athlete. And she catches. She played basketball, so she’s got good hands. It was against Virginia Beach, and they didn’t realize until the last five minutes of the game that she wasn’t a real goalie. Because the kids were laughing every time she’d get the ball.”

Braddock Road would pull out a 2-1 win despite giving up the first goal, making it a three-game undefeated streak – starting with the 2-2 draw with Washington – after losing their first five matches of the season.

But on to the Richmond match. Both teams were short-handed this time, Washington again without Douglas, Germino-Watnick, and Schnurr while the Strikers’ U-17 national teamer, Jordan Canniff, was also away.
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Short-handed Spirit Reserves draw 1-1 with Richmond Strikers

A Washington Spirit Reserves team missing Gloria Douglas, Paula Germino-Watnick, and Kristin Schnurr gave up a goal in the closing seconds of second-half stoppage time to settle for a draw with their opponents, this time the Richmond Strikers. That’s the second time that’s happened this season. The Strikers, meanwhile, had as their star player U-17 WNTer Jordan Canniff, fresh off training with the professional Spirit team last Wednesday.
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Spirit fall, 1-0, on the road against the Breakers

Head coach Jim Gabarra looks on as the Washington Spirit play at the Boston Breakers.

Head coach Jim Gabarra looks on as the Washington Spirit play at the Boston Breakers.

One of the appeals of soccer for me is the feeling that every moment counts, that a single lapse in play at any moment could cost you the match, or a little extra effort could win it. Other sports like (American) football or baseball have more of an ebb and flow – a goal-line stand or a three-two pitch – where some moments clearly matter than others, which has a different sort of appeal.

The critical moment in this match came at the 71:10 mark. Spirit rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard is bringing the ball forward at midfield and tries to send it on to fellow rookie Mallory Pugh. But she doesn’t get much on the ball, and Breakers defender Brooke Elby makes a quick dash forward to intercept it. She charges down the right, then centers for Rosie White, who takes a shot that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé has to leap to save.

On the ensuing corner kick, Rosie White sends it short to former Washington Spirit Reserve Midge Purce. The Spirit have done an execrable job of setting up to defend the short corner with no one out to mark Purce or White. Francisca Ordega – probably fairly low on the list of players Gabarra would pick to defend a quick, dangerous forward like Purce – rushes out to challenge, but Purce easily dodges around her to get off a hard, low shot that somehow makes it past Labbé for her first professional goal.
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WPSL DC-Area End of June Recap

Maryland Gatorade Girl's Player of the Year Cammie Murtha had a role in all three goals against Fredericksburg.

Maryland Gatorade Girl’s Player of the Year Cammie Murtha had a role in all three goals against Fredericksburg.

June 25: Washington Spirit Reserves 8, Virginia Beach City FC 0

The draw with Braddock Road evidently didn’t faze the Reserves at all, and they took out any frustrations on Virginia Beach, Kristin Schnurr scoring a hat trick to lead them to an 8-0 romp.

Schnurr started off the scoring in the 12th minute after Gloria Douglas made a run down the left sideline and sent a great cross into the box. Schnurr got a foot on it and redirected it into the net.

In the 24th minute, Paula Germino-Watnick fired a shot in from outside the box. Meghan Nally finished the first half scoring in stoppage time with a header off a cross from the right.

The next goal came off a corner kick in the 62nd minute. The ball bounced around in the box until Alexis Tye headed it in off a feed from Sadie Stark.

Three minutes later, it was Stark’s turn to score as Emma Kershner sent in a cross from the left side that she put away.

Schnurr got her second goal in the 84th minute off another feed from the left, sending the ball in from the middle of the box.

Two minutes later, Cammie Murtha made a run down the right flank, beat her defender, and sent in a cross that Schnurr sent in to complete her hat trick.

Not surprisingly, assistant coach JP Sousa was happy with the result. “We started off a little slow, but once we got into a groove, scored a couple of goals, then they just kind of opened up. We got the third one right before halftime, and then we scored early in the second half. And then it just kind of went from there. Everybody got to play, got some good, creative stuff going on. We were happy with it. We needed to get a game where we scored a bunch of goals, just to feel good.”
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WPSL DC-Area June Recap

June isn’t quite over yet, but I’m only going to make it to one more match, so here’s what’s happened so far this month.

All photographs courtesy of Larry J. Clark.

Virginia Beach City FC 4, Braddock Road Stars Elite 2

Braddock Road's Alex Myers attempts a shot against Virginia Beach.

Braddock Road’s Alex Myers attempts a shot against Virginia Beach.

On Wednesday, June 7, at Robinson High School in Fairfax, VA, a well-oiled Virginia Beach attack overpowered a normally solid Braddock Road defense and even though the Stars Elite scored twice – a good performance by them – it wasn’t enough.
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WPSL DC-Area Week One Recap

Meaghan McElligott

Australian Meaghan McElligott scored three consecutive goals in two matches for the Washington Spirit Reserves.

One week in (roughly), and we have three matches from the local teams in the books, two for each. (The math works out because they played each other.) The Washington Spirit Reserves are, unsurprisingly, 2-0-0, while the Braddock Road Stars Elite, also unsurprisingly, are 1-1-0.
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WPSL DC-area preview 2017

Washington Spirit Reserves players at a preseason practice.

Washington Spirit Reserves players at a preseason practice.

The regional elite women’s amateur scene has altered once again with the folding of the ASA Chesapeake Charge. For most of seven seasons, they were the local WPSL team to be reckoned with, but as time went by they found it harder and harder to recruit enough players to be competitive. When for some games last year they were starting the 13-year-old daughter of their operations manager, the writing was on the wall. So from two years ago when there were four local teams in two leagues, we’re down to two local teams in one league, the Women’s Premier Soccer League. Let’s look at those teams now.
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Spirit get first win of season, 4-3 over Sky Blue

Franny Ordega had a career match to lead the Spirit to their first win of 2017.

Franny Ordega had a career match to lead the Spirit to their first win of 2017.

Driving to the Soccerplex on Saturday, I was already composing this article in expectation of another lackluster performance. “Should the Spirit change their name? Spirit is the one thing that they’ve seemed to lack this season.” I was also going to note that Francisca Ordega seemed too fragile for this league, too often being bumped off the ball.

Shows what I know.

An almost unrecognizable team showed up Saturday evening, especially in the first half: completing passes, making runs off the ball, and showing an intensity that had been lacking in their previous three matches. And far from being a fragile flower, Ordega was muscling defenders off the ball in what some were calling the best NWSL performance of 2017 as she played a role in all four Washington goals: scoring two, assisting on one, and contributing to an own goal with a shot across the goalmouth.
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Washington Spirit 2017 Preview

Tori Huster is the lone remaining player to have been with the Spirit every year of the team's existence.

Tori Huster is the lone remaining player to have been with the Spirit every year of the team’s existence.

This year’s Washington Spirit seems defined more by who isn’t here than who is. If you tried to name the team’s defining players, it would probably go something like: Ali Krieger, Tori Huster, Diana Matheson, Crystal Dunn, and maybe a nod to Megan Oyster, Estefania Banini, and Christine Nairn.

Well, except for Huster all those players are gone now. Krieger was pretty much given away to the Orlando Pride. Matheson and Nairn were traded to the Seattle Reign. Oyster was traded to the Boston Breakers. Dunn and Banini are across the pond, playing for Chelsea and Valencia, respectively.

The remaining players include two from the Canadian WNT (Stephanie Labbé and Shelina Zadorsky) and two internationals (Line Sigvardsen Jensen of Denmark and Francisca Ordega of Nigeria), but no allocated players from the US WNT.

On the other hand, Washington has never been a team of stars, relying more on teamwork and a blue-collar attitude. Last year they had some of the prettiest team goals you could ask for, pinging the ball all over the field until someone found an opening and sent it in. They’ll need to do more of the same this year. As Huster says, “We’ve got a blue-collar mentality. No one’s going to outwork us.”
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