The puzzle pieces finally started to come together for the Washington Spirit today as their attacking players collaborated well enough to score two unanswered goals on the reigning NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels.
That seemed an unlikely result early on as UNC – known for their high-pressure approach – had the Spirit’s makeshift defense on their heels for most of the first twenty minutes. Tar Heel star forward Kealia Ohai in particular seemed too much for the back line to handle, as her speed and deceptiveness frequently allowed her to find space.
It shouldn’t have been too surprising, what with arguably the top 4 defenders on the roster unavailable for the match: Ali Krieger and Robyn Gayle up with their respective national teams, and Candace Chapman and Kika Toulouse out with injuries. Instead, the back line was anchored by Casey Berrier – just signed a few days ago after being waived by Kansas City – and Tori Huster, who’d never played central defender before in her life. Maryland alums Danielle Hubka and Domenica Hodak completed the foursome.
The tide started turning, though, after a score or so minutes, with the Spirit attack coming together. In the 27th minute, Tiffany McCarty picked up an intercepted ball and blew past Carolina’s right back. After drawing attention to herself while heading in toward the left post, she slipped the ball over to Caroline Miller out from the right post. Miller took a shot from 16 yards out that was blocked by a defender, but she got it back, settled it, and put it in from closer range.
UNC head coach Anson Dorrance was philosophical about the goal and complimentary of the Spirit forwards. “The first goal, that girl [Miller] has scored on us consistently. And also that other girl [McCarty] playing for Florida State has been a thorn in our side as well for four years. These are two elite players. And not just those two, there was a tall girl up front [Stephanie Ochs]. Yes, she had a very good game. We struggled to shut her down.”
McCarty would strike again just two minutes into the second half, getting a ball from Ochs a little ways past midfield and outracing her mark into the box, where she faked out U-20 WNT goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin before slotting the ball just inside the left post.
Veteran and team captain Lori Lindsey had a chance on a long shot in the 55th minutes, but bounced it off the right post from 25 yards out.
Meanwhile, Carolina scarcely threatened in the second half, recording no shots on goal in the closing 45 after getting two in the opening. Despite the Tar Heels having the better of possession overall, Chantel Jones was only truly challenged once, on a 10th minute far post attempt from Brooke Elby that she had to dive to corral.
Head coach Mike Jorden was happy with the performance. “I thought it was a great effort by the team. [Carolina] came out in the first fifteen minutes and really took it to us, fast, athletic, and always well-coached. But we battled through it, got the goal, and then as the game went on I thought we played better, kept our composure, did a lot of the things we’ve been working on in training.”
When asked about chemistry amongst the forwards, Miller was very positive. “I think it’s coming along great. I think this game shows that we’re growing and learning how to play with each other.” And she was particularly complimentary of McCarty’s near-assist: “It was a great ball from Tiffany. I could not have asked for a better ball. Probably should have put it away on the first one, but I got the deflection, and it was an easy tap-in.”
The Spirit will take their 270-minute preseason shutout streak to Maryland this Wednesday evening, as they take on the Terrapins in College Park at 7 before concluding their preseason back at the Soccerplex by playing the ACC champion Virginia Cavaliers at 7:30 on Saturday.
Sports Myriad: Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Free subs!
Washington Spirit: Miller, McCarty goals send Carolina home blue with 2-0 loss