It was a good week for local women’s soccer fans. The professional Spirit got back on a winning track. The flagship Washington Spirit Reserves won three games in five days and clinched first place in the W-League’s Northeastern Conference. The Braddock Road Stars Elite got their second win. The ASA Chesapeake Charge went 3-0 in the group stage of the USASA Women’s Open Cup, then lost narrowly in the finals to the New York Athletic Club. On the other hand, ACF Torino USA fell, 2-1, to the New York Fury.
Washington Spirit Reserves at the Braddock Road Stars Elite
The soccer week started off with the third and final regular-season matchup between the Spirit Reserves and the Stars Elite, which ended as a 3-0 win for Washington. I was looking forward to this as a real test of both teams with all their players available, but that turned out not to be the case. “We were a little bit short-handed tonight – we had one sub,” said Braddock Road assistant coach Mark Riehl. “We had a number of players who were out tonight who are normally starters.”
In the first half it didn’t show, the home team getting the better chances. In the 29th minute, Marisa Park sent a free kick to the far post that goalkeeper Adelaide Gay had to punch clear. Six minutes later, Kahla Seymour fired a hard shot from about 25 out that Gay saved. The best chance, though, might have been in the 40th minute, when Gay and Seymour collided vying for a ball over the top. It fell to Park, who rushed to shoot before Gay could get back in position and missed just wide left. The first half ended scoreless.
The Stars Elite broke through at the start of the second half, Allie Wisner getting behind the line but fairly deep. With defender Satara Murray bearing down on her, she fired an early shot from distance that Gay had to dive to corral. Even then, she fumbled it briefly, but no one was close enough to take advantage.
(It’s got to seem a little unfair to play against Washington’s back line: even if you do break it down briefly, the next thing you know Murray is hurtling at you like Abby Wambach with a gold medal on the line, and you’ve got about another half-second to shoot while you still have the ball.)
The Spirit Reserves started subbing in fresh players in the 55th minute, and got their first goal six minutes later, Sam Lofton sending in a cross from the left that fell to Ashley Herndon, who fired it into the lower left corner.
Herndon got her second in the 72nd minute, winning the ball from Braddock Road goalkeeper Jessie Ferrari just inside the box and knocking it into the lower left corner.
In the 79th minute, Andi Sullivan brought the ball forward with targets available. She decided to keep it herself but was taken down in the box. Substitute Lina Granados stepped up to take the penalty kick and sent it toward the lower right corner, but Ferrari dived to make the save.
The third and final goal came in the 90th minute, Maddie Huster feeding Melissa Downey, who fired the ball in from just outside the box.
Despite the score, Riehl was happy with his team’s performance. “It was a good product by both teams on the field, both teams played hard and moved the ball pretty well. We’re improving each time out. You might not see it in a 3-0 scoreline, but we’re playing with confidence. We’re not intimidated by them or anybody else. We’re trying to possess and play the ball pretty well. We just made some mistakes, get a little tired toward the end, and a team like this is going to make you pay.”
It was the seventh shutout of the season for the Reserves’ defense, which has given up a mere two goals so far this season – both to Braddock Road captain Park, who was foiled this match.
Left flank defender Sam Lofton, new to the team this year, is impressed with the personnel. “It’s probably the strongest back line I’ve ever played with. We have an anchor in goal as well as the center backs and the other outside back. We’re not really experienced together, but we’re still pretty solid together.”
Central defender Satara Murray, also new to the team, was more analytical. “Communication, defend well, always be like ten steps ahead of the game, always reading it, reading everybody’s, where they’re looking, every moment.”
Lofton is fairly local, having grown up in central Pennsylvania and currently a fifth-year senior at James Madison, so it’s not astonishing she’s playing for an area team – particularly after being encouraged to do so by JMU teammate Ashley Herndon. “It’s a great experience. I haven’t played summer ball since before college because I’ve had injuries, so this is great. It gives me a good fall and also it give me a chance to play with some of the best players in the country and some of the pros as well.”
Murray, on the other hand, is from Texas, plays for North Carolina, and played for the LA-based Pali Blues last year. So how did she end up with Washington? “[Washington Spirit head coach] Mark Parsons spoke with [UNC head coach] Anson [Dorrance]. Anson relayed the message to me, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity, to get to play with a great group of girls like this and also get an opportunity to train with the pro team as well.”
If you’ve been at a game, you know that when Murray is given space she’s eager to charge forward with the ball. I asked if she was a frustrated forward. She laughed. “I used to play forward when I was like 10 or 11 and then I got moved to defense after that. No, I don’t have any ambitions to be a forward at all. Defense is my thing.”
Washington Spirit Reserves vs. Long Island Rough Riders
In the second of a tough, three-games-in-five-days string, the Spirit Reserves hosted the venerable Rough Riders at Washington-Lee High School Friday evening. Before a huge crowd by W-League standards, they again won, 3-0, despite the best efforts of Long Island goalkeeper Diana Poulin, who made 15 saves to keep her team in the match – that on top of 10 saves she’d made when Long Island was the home team, a performance that kept DC off the scoreboard for the first time this year.
Despite missing their leading goal-scorer at the time, Ashley Herndon, who was with her U-19 team, the Washington attack looked as sharp as it has all season, and it took only 13 minutes to get on the scoreboard, with Kara Wilson taking the ball off the end line and kicking it out to right flank defender Jennifer Skogerboe, who sent a perfectly placed cross to Katie Yensen’s forehead that she just had to redirect into the lower left corner. “Jen played a perfect ball in, hit me right in the head,” said Yensen. “I was able to redirect it to the corner, which is good. It didn’t have a lot of pace on it, but it was accurate. And they left me pretty wide open in the box, which helped.”
In the 21st minute, Aaran Parry did a great job to get the ball to Yensen’s feet in the goalmouth, but Poulin managed to snatch the ball off of Yensen’s toes. Yensen was through again in the 27th minute but Poulin was right there to block the shot. Six minutes later Yensen had a point-blank shot thwarted by a reflex save from Poulin.
The score was doubled in the 42nd minute when Parry sent a cross in from the right that Kelsey Pardue slipped just inside the left post.
Poulin would continue to thwart the Reserves attack for most of the match. She was beaten one last time when Pardue fed Maddie Huster, who brought the ball just outside the top left corner of the box and then fired a beautiful shot into the upper right-hand corner of the netting.
Sousa was pretty happy after the match. “[Head coach] German [Peri] and I felt that we were better today. We played a better game than Wednesday, which was what we wanted, controlled the play for longer stretches. We were more creative in front of goal, in the attacking third. We had more movement. The quality of passing was much better. We were really happy with what the girls were doing.”
Forward Kara Wilson agreed. “I think we’ve been progressively getting better, hopefully peaking at the right time. Things were coming together tonight, finally. I think it’s always difficult when you have a new mix of players coming in for every game. Getting used to playing with everyone, forming that chemistry, has been difficult, but it’s coming together.”
Yensen admitted that the offense had been a concern. “I think just execution is something we’ve been working on a lot. I personally had a lot more chances than just one, so I was hoping to put more away. But we’ve been working on it in practice, been getting better and better as the season’s been going on. I mean, scoring goals is hard – that’s what makes soccer so fun. We’re doing a good job – we just need to keep plugging away.”
And Wilson noted that Poulin made things tough for them. “She had a great game, made some awesome saves.”
The W-League announced later that evening that the Spirit Reserves had clinched first place in the Northeastern Conference, a pretty impressive achievement given that some of their competition was only halfway through their season.
Player to watch: Diana Poulin
After the match, I made it a point to do some research on Long Island’s outstanding goalkeeper. She grew up on Long Island and played at the club level for East Meadow and within the Long Island organization’s youth clubs. She played four years for Hauppauge High School and was named to the New York All-State team her senior year.
She followed in the footsteps of her brother, who also played goalkeeper for Hauppauge and was team MVP his senior year. Unlike him, though – and unlike a lot of goalkeepers, including even the illustrious Hope Solo – she chose to be a goalkeeper starting with her freshman year in high school rather than having it thrust upon her. “My brother has always been my role model in soccer,” she said. “I wanted to be a goalie, and I was a field player. He helped me make that transition and gave me the confidence to become a goalie. He always pushed me and helped me. He was always there.” (Quote courtesy of Big Apple Soccer, which has a nice article about her and her brother.)
She’s a rising sophomore at St. John’s University and despite being a freshman last season was their regular starting goalkeeper, which she considers the high point of her soccer career so far. “I didn’t expect to make such an impact on the team, but a lot of people have said that it’s been a big impact at a high level. And I just love playing for them.” She was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Week three times and made the All-Big East Third Team. She finished the season with a GAA of 1.00 and a .804 save percentage, helping the Red Storm make it into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
As for ambitions, “I’d love to keep playing, just keep improving until I’m at my best and hopefully it takes me to the farthest I can go.”
I wish her all the best – except against my teams!
Braddock Road Stars Elite vs. Long Island Rough Riders
Long Island had to turn around the next day and play a second match in our area, this one against the first year Braddock Road. I came to the game worried about how the young, offense-starved team – who had scored a mere six goals in their first seven matches – would manage against Poulin. I’d just about have bet my 401(k) that they wouldn’t score two more than the Spirit, but that’s what happened, in a 5-1 drubbing that might be a wakeup call for the rest of the conference that this is a team to be reckoned with. As for Poulin, they seldom even gave her a chance to make a save, the shots being so well-placed.
Once again, they were limited to one sub, but it didn’t seem to matter. The passing and the play were still extremely crisp, and it took them only eight minutes to score. Marisa Park received a nicely weighted through ball on a run at the left post, drew the attention of Poulin and the defenders, then passed to the right to Allie Wisner, who just had to tap it into the open net. There were several near-misses in the next few minutes, then in the 25th minute a Long Island turnover led to a 3-on-1 break. Kristen Meier brought the ball down the middle, keeping the defender with her, then passed to Park on the left, who tucked it into the lower left corner.
The Stars Elite took it down a notch toward the latter part of the first half, which let the Rough Riders back in it again. “We came out strong in the first 20 minutes,” said midfielder Carlyn Baldwin, “then we kind of let the game get away from us a little bit, having some unforced turnovers. Then we came out strong in the second half and got a pretty early goal, just kind of settled the game down. We just kept moving the ball and knocked a couple more in.”
But though there were some Long Island attacks, all of them were thwarted before becoming particularly dangerous. Then it took only three minutes into the second half for Braddock to add to the score, as Maire Shine sent in a cross that both a Long Island and a Braddock Road player jumped up for. It appeared to go off the Long Island head and in for an own goal. (There was no announcement, and the W-League box score is still incomplete, so that’s not certain.)
The Rough Riders moved their best player, Sue Weber – who played in the WPS for the Boston Breakers and the Philadelphia Independence – up from central defense to the midfield for the second half. Some halftime and early-second-half substitutions gave them fresh legs, and they started to press a bit. In the 55th minute, Elite goalkeeper Tina Cardamone and a Rough Riders forward both went for a through ball and missed. Cardamone recovered first, though, and managed to grab the ball before the Long Islander could get up and contend for it.
Weber would get one back for the visitors in the 69th minute, collecting a throw-in and lofting a long ball in from the left that sailed over Cardamone into the upper right corner.
But it would take only six minutes for the home team to strike again, Park bringing the ball in down the left, then finding right flank defender Jenn Boyles – normally an attacking midfielder – open on the right. Boyles tucked a shot into the lower left corner.
The scoring would conclude in the 77th minute on a corner kick. Park sent the ball in from the right corner spot to the far post. Wisner headed it down toward the lower right corner, where lone substitution Stephanie Hamilton poked it in.
Head coach Larry Best had the luxury of putting in his third-string goalkeeper, Madison Card, for the last seven minutes.
Best was happy with his team’s play, with some caveats. “We were really good early in the game, with our tempo, our rhythm. They were having a hard time getting the ball from us. But then as soon as we started turning it over, we gave them their chances. But I thought we played really well, collectively, for 90 minutes.”
He noted that Long Island was at a bit of a disadvantage after having to deal with the Spirit Reserves the previous evening. “I think we caught a team that’s probably tired. They had to play last night, and it’s never easy since they played against a very good team in the Spirit. So we probably caught them a little down.”
Baldwin is one of the defining players on the team. “I’ve been with Braddock Road since rising U-11, so I’ve been here for a while, coached by Larry the whole time, and Mark. We’ve all grown up together, and it’s been a really good run.”
Her goal with the W-League team is “Just to keep getting better as a player. Our team is getting ready for nationals, so getting used to a higher speed of play will help us.”
As for team goals, “We’re just hoping to have a good first year so we can get people back for a second year.”
Baldwin has several “our teams”, most notably the U-20 national team, but to her the real “our team” is Braddock Road’s U-18 team, or “the 95ers”, as I refer to them, who also form a solid core for the W-League team after winning the U-16 national championship in 2012. And she’ll be adding the University of Tennessee to that list this fall.
Forward Kahla Seymour, meanwhile, is looking to rise another notch or two, helped by the W-League experience. “It is definitely a different speed of play, and you’re playing against tougher players, so it’s really great to get ready for the level we’re going to be going into for college. It’s just a great step up for development and getting ready. I’ve been working hard, it’s beginning to pay off. I committed to Wake Forest at the beginning of junior year. And I’ve just been working hard to get ready for preseason.”
Best has two players on the U-20 national team – the other is Kaleigh Riehl. I asked him which other players he’d recommend for the U-20s, thinking I might stump him, but he took it in stride. “We’ve already had those conversations. Natalie Larkin, Elysse Branton, Rachel Moore, Kahla Seymour.” He noted that he had a good relationship with US Soccer’s April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis, mentioning in passing that he was Ellis’s coach when she first arrived here from England.
About Seymour in particular, he said, “When she gets in the attack and she gets after people, she’s tough to bring down. She’s going to have a great career at Wake Forest.”
Early in the season, not all of those players were available. “The last time we played this team it was 1-1, this time we add in Carlyn, add in Kahla, add in E.B. [Elysse Branton]. Those are three very good players, quality, quality players.”
“We’ve been working on finishing,” he added, “but the biggest thing is we’re coming together as a group. Everybody enjoys each other, they enjoy playing with each other. It’s a really good team bond right now. We’re getting more players back, too, that we didn’t have before.”
“Those three points were important to us,” he went on. “We want to move up the table. We want to prove that we belong up higher in the table.”
It was indeed a big win for Braddock Road. They’re out of the cellar for the first time this season and tied for fourth place in the conference. They can’t overtake the Spirit Reserves, of course, but they have a game in hand on the third place New York Magic and a home-and-home against the second-place New Jersey Wildcats. If they win their four remaining matches – not at all out of the question after this performance – they’d earn a playoff spot. The only downside is that the reward for that is to play Washington a fourth time.
Their next step on that road is Wednesday, July 2, at 8 pm, when they’ll play at the North Jersey Valkyries. Their next home game is Saturday, July 5, at 4 pm, against the New Jersey Wildcats.
Washington Spirit Reserves at New Jersey Wildcats
With the conference clinched, the Spirit Reserves traveled up to New Jersey playing for pride and to show that they’re unquestionably the #1 team. They definitely succeeded, downing the second-place Wildcats, 5-1, off two more goals from Katie Yensen and goals from Sam Lofton, Aaran Parry, and Ashley Herndon. The lone opposition goal – only the third given up by the team all year – was scored by New Jersey’s Rachel Ivanicki.
The Reserves have just one game left in their regular season, back at the Soccerplex on Sunday, July 13, at 4 pm, when they’ll face the North Jersey Valkyries.
ASA Chesapeake Charge in the USASA Women’s Open Cup
The Charge traveled down to Florida on Thursday to compete in the USASA’s highest level of women’s amateur competition. Eight teams were in the competition, with three games at the group play stage, then the two teams with the best records compete in the final. The Houston Aces and the Real Salt Lake Women from the Memorial Day Amateur National Championship were also participants but not part of the Charge’s draw, so there were no rematches.
The first match was that evening against the Tampa Bay Hellenic. Originally scheduled to start at 8 pm, it slipped till after 9 due to lightning delaying an earlier match. Chesapeake prevailed, 2-1, on goals from Marisa Kresge and Cheyenne Skidmore.
The next evening’s match was also delayed by lightning, originally until 10 pm and then so late it was cancelled and rescheduled for 9 the next morning. The opposition was the Houston Aces Academy – basically the Aces reserve team – whom the Charge dispatched easily, 4-0, with goals from Skidmore, Alex Doody, Katie Ponce, and Kresge.
The third match was against the FC Surge at 8 pm and actually started more-or-less on time. The Charge again won easily, 5-0, on goals from Ali Andrzejewski, Ponce, Doody (times two), and Jess Hnatiuk.
The three wins put them into the final against the only other undefeated team, the New York Athletic Club. The final started at noon on Sunday. NYAC’s Victoria DiMartino scored in the 26th minute to give them the lead, then Riley Barger tied it up in the 68th minute. There was a brief scare for Chesapeake in the 80th minute when a free kick was redirected into the net, but New York was flagged for offside. However, just about a minute later a NYAC player got through, dodged the goalkeeper, and put the ball away. The Charge were unable to come back a second time and fell, 2-1, to their East Conference rivals.
The Charge return home to play the LVU Lady Sonic Wednesday, July 2, at 4 pm.
ACF Torino USA at Long Island Fury
Torino traveled north on Sunday to face the Long Island Fury and fell, 2-1. The standings as reported on the WPSL website aren’t reliable enough to say for sure, but this probably extinguishes the team’s playoff hopes.
Their next match is on Wednesday, July 2, at 7 pm, against the Buxmont Torch. Due to a couple of forfeits, this will be their first match at their regular home stadium at the Riverdale Baptist Sportsplex.