Category Archives: NWSL

Playoffs at the ‘Plex

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women's professional soccer match at the 'Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women’s professional soccer playoff match at the ‘Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Based on what I’ve read on Twitter and elsewhere, Spirit fans have a definite glass-half-empty feeling about losing the first-place spot the last weekend of the season after having held it for several weeks previously. But look on the bright side: this is the best regular-season finish in the history of Washington women’s professional soccer.

Yes, Abby Wambach never managed it in four years here. Heck, Wambach and Mia Hamm combined never managed it. But this bunch of no-names – certainly with no one of the marquee value of the aforementioned – did the job.

However, though this Friday’s home playoff match is a first for the Spirit, it’s not a first for Washington (or the Soccerplex). Back in 2009, the Freedom finished third in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) on the strength of a 4-1-1 finish to the season, which included a barnburner, 4-4 match against Sky Blue at Yurcak Field that the Freedom tied up in the final minutes off a goal from Cat Whitehill. (I got held up at halftime behind the stands chatting with someone at that match and got back late only to find that I’d missed not one but two goals.) It’s a team with a few players familiar to Spirit fans: Joanna Lohman, Lori Lindsey, and Ali Krieger were all on the roster.
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Spirit Clinch Playoff Spot With 1-1 Draw Against Flash

It’s not hard to tell when the Spirit are going to win: they’ll be pinging the ball around from player to player, players always on the move to make themselves an open passing target, everyone calmly keeping possession and looking for an opening. I knew from the start of last week’s game that they’d beat Orlando because they came out playing that way.

Tonight against the Western New York Flash it was like that for only about ten minutes late in the first half. Other than that and a few minutes in the second half, the team seemed to be on their heels the entire evening. For both halves I sat near the goal Washington was attacking, and for both halves my dominant recollection is peering into the distance as the Flash went after the far goal.
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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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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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Spirit start off NWSL’s season 4 with 1-0 win over Breakers

With all the offensive weapons at their disposal, how would you expect the Washington Spirit to score their first goal of 2016? Crystal Dunn on a steal and a breakaway? Christine Nairn from distance? Katie Stengel? Estefania Banini? No, it was Joanna Lohman – at 33 the oldest player on the team – in the 3rd minute on a bicycle kick. “It was honestly a dream come true,” said Lohman after the game. “Hands down the best goal I’ve ever scored. I can officially retire now.”

Washington managed to make the lone tally hold up against a rebuilding Boston Breakers team, not that the latter didn’t have their chances despite an official scoreline of just 2 shots on goal.
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Washington Spirit 2016 Season Preview

The Washington Spirit scrimmage on media day.

The Washington Spirit scrimmage on media day.

GOALKEEPERS (2): Stephanie Labbé (FP-CAN), Kelsey Wys
DEFENDERS (7): Whitney Church, Caprice Dydasco, Estelle Johnson, Alyssa Kleiner, Ali Krieger (FP-USA), Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky (FP-CAN)
MIDFIELDER (5): Estefania Banini (INT’L-ARG), Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman, Diana Matheson (FP-CAN), Christine Nairn
FORWARDS (6): Laura del Rio, Crystal Dunn (FP-USA), Cali Farquharson, Francisca Ordega (INT’L- NGA), Katie Stengel, Cheyna Williams

Changes from last year:

GK: lose Ashlyn Harris in expansion draft, gain Stephanie Labbé

DEF: Zadorsky added. Reynolds traded for Kleiner. Chukwunonye cut.

MID: Banini healthy. Da Costa traded. Salem traded.

FWD: Weimer, Okobi, Raso cut. Farquharson, Stengel, Williams added.

However the season turns out, the Spirit have the historic distinction of hosting the first match ever in the fourth season of a women’s professional soccer league, inaugurating the NWSL’s 2016 season Saturday at 7 at the Maryland Soccerplex.

As for the team, is this the best Spirit team ever? After several years of significant turnover, this year fourteen players return to the roster with just six new ones, making the roster one of the most stable in the league. Losing Ashlyn Harris in the expansion draft is a big loss, of course, but at the other end Gabarra started off training camp with enough forwards for an American League baseball starting lineup. That’s been whittled down to six, but at least this year Crystal Dunn should have some real help with the scoring.
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Gabarra Returns to Germantown

Jim Gabarra returns to coach Washington

Jim Gabarra returns to coach Washington


For ten years and through three leagues – and no league – Washington had just one coach: Jim Gabarra. He led the Freedom to two championships, WUSA (2003) and W-League (2007), before leaving after the end of the 2010 season (even before the fiasco that followed) and ended up taking the reins at Sky Blue. With the departure of Mark Parsons to coach the Thorns, he was invited back to a familiar venue closer to his family’s home near Annapolis. I caught up with him after the Spirit’s open tryouts, and of course my first question was what it was like to return.

“Yes, it’s interesting. It’s a place I’ve never been, coming into a team that’s already fully rostered. Every team, every season, there’s going to be a certain number of changes, but to come into a team where I think there’s two players I’ve worked with in the past is certainly unique. In the past it’s been my team: I built the team, I signed the players. It’s almost similar to the college situation where all the players are there because you brought ’em there. It’s a good challenge for me, and I think it’s a good situation to be in because it’s something different for me, and it’s a way for me to improve as a person and a coach.”
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Spirit fall to physical Seattle, 2-1

In a sane world, the main topic of this writeup would be the two sensational goals scored by Jess Fishlock and Megan Rapinoe to give Seattle the win.

Instead, it all started when the Spirit announcer messed up and announced Hope Solo’s as #2 instead of #1, then quickly corrected himself. Spirit season ticket holders have gotten used to these little goofs, whether it’s introducing Robyn Gayle as Crystal Gayle, getting Ali Krieger’s number wrong, saying Mike Jorden is the head coach, or failing to announce Crystal Dunn at all.

Then early in the game, Seattle owner Bill Predmore was at the Reign bench and refused to leave when asked despite it being explicitly against the NWSL rules for him to be there. Reportedly, he threw away the phone of the poor Spirit volunteer who asked him to leave. (I’d really like to hear about some repercussions for Predmore here, particularly since some of the activity on the field by his players was at about the same level of decorum.)

Meanwhile, on the field 15 minutes in Megan Rapinoe got around right flank defender Whitney Church to send a cross in. Katherine Reynolds was able to head the ball clear at the goalmouth, but it fell right to a wide open Fishlock, who had plenty of time to collect the ball and fire it toward goal from about 25 out. It deflected slightly off a Spirit defender and went into the upper right corner past a leaping Ashlyn Harris.

Ten minutes later Reign forward Merritt Mathias won a fight for the ball in the corner of the box and kicked it out to Megan Rapinoe, who, just as wide open as Fishlock, fired it into the upper left-hand corner past a leaping Harris.
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