Spirit Start Strong With 4-0 Win Over Virginia Tech

Spirit, Hokies introduction lineup

The Washington Spirit line up to take on Virginia Tech in their preseason opener.

After leading scorer Jodie Taylor was traded away and runner-up Diana Matheson got injured, followers of the Washington Spirit have been wondering who’s going to score for them this year. They got four answers on Saturday as DC downed Virginia Tech, 4-0, in their first match of the 2015 preseason.

Argentine forward Estefania Banini started off the scoring in the 14th minute, collecting the ball in the goalmouth and doing some dodging and dancing reminiscent of Amy Rodriguez’s Algarve Cup goal before sticking the ball in the back of the net. That score would be the only one of the first half.

In the 52nd minute, Banini centered the ball from the left to Amanda DaCosta in front of goal, who made a nifty move as the Tech defense tried to close her down and stuck the ball in. Eleven minutes later, DaCosta would slip the ball to Christine Nairn, who tucked the ball in from uncharacteristically close range. And Laura del Rio would finish off the scoring in the 67th minute from 20 yards out, chipping the ball over the goalkeeper and into the upper right corner of the net.

It was quite an accomplishment for what is a very fresh roster: only two of the starters (Nairn and Tori Huster) played with the team last year, and only one of the eight subs (Alex Singer) was on the regular roster in 2014.

“I don’t think we want to be in this place where we’re turning over 10-11 players, half the team,” said head coach Mark Parsons before this match. “I feel like we needed to, we had to, we wanted to keep moving forward, and we look like we’ve done that. It’s exciting.”

Huster – the only active player there from the 2013 team – was impressed with how the team was coming together. “We got into a rhythm quickly, and that was definitely helpful. So if we can find that rhythm at the beginning of our games. I know in the past we struggled in first halfs. If we can get that early on, it’s going to carry on throughout the game like it did today.”

DaCosta had thought things were going well even at the time of the scrimmage, after just a week of camp. “I think we’re all still trying to get used to each other, but the energy was really high, which is what we were hoping for for a preseason scrimmage. We’re all new to each other. There are some familiar faces of people that we’ve played with, but for the most part we’re just trying to figure each other out and at the same time find our own place, you know, making a good mark for ourselves as well as for the team.”

Huster hasn’t shared the concern over scoring. “Yeah, a lot of people are worried about that, I guess. Right now, we’re not. We’re trying to play as a team. Mark has a certain philosophy, and he’s trying to instill that in all of us. I think if we take into consideration what he’s asking us to do, we’re going to score goals. We’re going to be in and around the 18 and hopefully put the ball in the back of the net like we did today.”

Pregame warmups

Head coach Mark Parsons oversees pregame warmups.

Even more impressively, this wasn’t anywhere close to the “A” team. Obviously, all the national teamers are away, plus rookie Caprice Dydasco sat out with a muscle strain. (Parsons expects her back midweek.) And forward Tiffany Weimer didn’t play in the game, though she did participate in some of the post-match workouts.

After last week’s scrimmage, I asked Parsons about the team being thin on goalscorers, which he prophetically denied. “It’s Caroline Miller, Tiffany Weimer, Estefi Banini, Amanda DaCosta can play wide, Laura Del Rio, who’s just arrived. Crystal Dunn will play up there, and we’re also in final negotiations with another forward player. That player is a bit like what Harding would have given us: pace, power, the ability to score goals and get behind people’s shoulders. The problem is that I can’t get them all on the field.” If he’d mentioned Nairn – the team’s #3 scorer last year – he probably should have gone out and bought lottery tickets.

He followed up after this match regarding the prospective new forward, saying that all the paperwork is done and if all goes well the announcement should come early in the week. She has World Cup obligations, though, so probably won’t join the team until those are fulfilled.

More than the score, though, he was pleased with how the team played. “It was really exciting in the first sixty minutes because we were creating a lot of opportunities and in different ways. I felt that ball movement and movement off the ball for this stage were really good. I think the biggest task now is keeping that standard, holding them to that standard.”

Banini, del Rio

Stefi Banini (left) gets interviewed with translation help from Laura del Rio.

We interviewed Banini after the game about her experience so far, though we had to recruit del Rio to translate for her. Del Rio summed up her fellow forward’s comments as, “She likes the team and the teammates. She’s so happy to be with this team and experience the speed of play. She wants to give her best for the team, the league, and for herself.” Banini said one of her goals over the summer was to learn English, so maybe by September we won’t need an interpreter.

The Spirit have two more preseason matches coming up, against Virginia next weekend and against North Carolina the weekend after that.

Parsons talked about what he was looking forward to about each preseason opponent. “Virginia Tech was going to give us a real physical battle. They can play good football, and they can also counterattack and be direct at times, in an attractive way that causes you problems. The physical size, the pace, the good football, the various types of football was going to be key to waking us up and give us a great first challenge. I think they did that. Credit to them, they made us chase the ball quite a lot today.

“UVA, there’s not many teams that play soccer the way they play soccer, very possession-oriented. UNC, I think the pace UNC play at, it might be the closest we face before we play a league game. So getting that in just before a league game was key. They work so hard off the ball.”

overflow crowd

It was an overflow crowd for this match.

Both matches are scheduled for Saturday at 7 pm at Maureen Hendricks Field, unlike this match, which was moved at the last minute to Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, after yesterday’s snow made all the available fields at the Soccerplex unplayable.

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