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
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.