Thursday, May 28: Braddock Road U-20s 1, Washington Spirit Academy 0.
Saturday, May 30: Washington Spirit Reserves 2, Atlanta Silverbacks Women 2.
Sunday, May 31: Atlanta Silverbacks Women 7, Braddock Road Stars Elite 0.
Braddock Road U-20s starting off on the right foot
My first amateur game of the season was actually a W-League U-20 (“W-20”) match between the Braddock Road Stars Elite and the Washington Spirit Academy on Field 14 at the Maryland Soccerplex. This was the second match of the season for Braddock Road, who had already downed the Northern Virginia Majestics, 2-0, and the first for Washington. Looking at the rosters, it seemed a bit of a mismatch. Braddock Road’s players were almost entirely the teenagers from their W-League team, while the Spirit’s roster had no W-Leaguers at all. That the result was 1-0 in favor of Braddock Road – on a first half goal by Olivia Fiegel – was no great surprise.
Washington head coach Danielle Malagari (yes, also the color commentator for Spirit home matches) noted the difference. “This is a very hard team to play against because they’re very good technically, tactically. They play together year-round, as opposed to us this being our first game. We’re focused on learning each other’s names, learning how each other plays.”
Still, she didn’t mind the result. “Coming away with a 1-0 loss, that’s not a problem for us. There’s some things that we need to figure out when we do play them, and when we do [again] I think it’ll be an even closer game. This is where we started last year: we lost our first game, and we went into nationals. So we need to build on this and see where it takes us.”
Braddock Road, meanwhile, is now 2-0 after an earlier 2-0 win over Northern Virginia.
After the game, I asked BRYC head coach Larry Best to pick one of his younger players to talk with. He picked the youngest, Gabrielle “Gabby” Robinson, who got 12 minutes at the end of the game despite being just 13 years old. “It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s a club experience. Everybody is familiar playing with each other. This is my first time with the ’20s, but I’ve been practicing with them, so it’s good to get good touches on the ball and pace.”
Robinson just came off a call-up to the U-15 national team back in March. I asked her what the challenges were to playing up so far. “Just the speed of play, getting used to it. Coming from the ’00 age group, which is not slow but medium-paced.”
When asked what she needed to work on, she said, “How strong I am. I’m kind of weak now.”
The other player there invited to national team camp recently was Elysse Branton, who got her first-ever call-up to the national level when she was invited to join the U-19s, also in March. “It was amazing,” she said. “It was great going out there and getting good training with amazing coaches and players , playing with and against them. It was just great. ”
Asked what she brought back from the experience, she said, “Trying to keep the ball and at the national level they’re trying to spread the defense as far as possible and have a center mid drop in, so our center backs get as wide as possible, and that’s what we’re trying to do here, to make the field as big as possible so we can go straight through teams.”
As with all the other 95ers I talked with, she said the W-League was great preparation for going into college soccer at William and Mary. “It’s a great league to help you play against older players and know the physicality of college, because it’s a very big difference going from high school to college. It was definitely a great experience.”
She said this summer she would be focusing on “fitness, and when I can try to keep the ball and when I can try to hit the longer ball, trying to get us in faster into the attack.”
Best noted that the U-20 roster would change once high school let out and wouldn’t be just the eligible W-Leaguers. “We don’t allow kids who are playing high school to play right now. We just say focus on your high school season because we don’t want to get into an overuse situation where they’re trying to run from one thing to the next. So go play high school, and when they’re done they’ll go ahead and get onto our roster.”
Braddock Road W-Leaguers fall hard to the Atlanta Silverbacks Women
The Braddock Road W-Leaguers started off their season with two matches on the road against the Dayton Dutch Lions, losing 1-0 and 5-2. They came home surely looking for a better outcome, but it was not to be. On Sunday when the full Stars Elite team took on a resurgent Silverbacks team, they suffered a 7-0 loss, the worst in the team’s short history.
The first half was relatively competitive, with the home team getting a break early when Atlanta’s Cheyna Williams sent her penalty kick just wide right after Braddock was whistled for a handball. It took until the 31st minute for the first goal. The buildup started when Williams took the ball into the box, but defender Elysse Branton was all over her. Williams sent the ball back out where Mary Bleekrode fired it in from about twenty yards out.
In the 43rd minute, Braddock Road goalkeeper Tina Cardamone came running out of the box to try to kick the ball clear, but she sent it only a couple of yards. Williams collected the ball and had an easy putaway into the open net.
With time running out in the first half, Stars Elite midfielder Rachel Moore had the ball in the box with a little bit of room but she dished it off to a player who wasn’t there instead of shooting. Reluctance to pull the trigger was a theme for the team on the day.
The real nail in the coffin came three minutes into the second half. The Silverbacks’ Grace Damaska, who also plays for Georgetown, brought the ball in on the left and crossed to an open Chloe Richards at the far post, who put it away. Braddock Road head coach Larry Best: “The frustrating part was we gave up a goal right away at the beginning of the second half. We said, ‘We’re not going to give up one. We’re going to get the first one, to make it 2-1, and we’ll fight from there.’ But we gave up to make it three, and then it went four. And then it was all downhill from there.”
Braddock Road’s Olivia Fiegel had a brief open look at goal two minutes later but was unable to get a shot off.
Shortly after that, Damaska scored a spectacular goal, getting the ball well on her side of the field, then dribbling past Moore and several other opposing players on her way toward goal and finally putting it away unassisted.
Richards would score twice more in the next ten minutes to pick up a hat trick, and Damaska sent in the final goal.
Best critiqued his team after the game. “I think our fitness is an issue, and we’ve got to improve on that. We ran out of gas and make them look a lot better than they probably were, but give them credit, they took advantage of our weakness at times. We gave away some foolish balls which allowed them to counter us and get in behind us and score. That was the difference in the game. And when our legs started to go, we didn’t have a ton of subs.
“Some of our younger players worked their tail ends off. Amy [Luttges], Kelsey [Kiley], even though Kelsey made some mistakes in the back, it’s such a great experience for her, she’s going to learn from it.
“They’re good, they’re good. I don’t know if they’re seven goals better than we are, but it is what it is. But give them credit. They took advantage of the opportunities and scored the goals they needed to score.”
I made it a point to talk with likely W-League Player of the Week Richards after the game. Originally from Cornwall in England, she led the NCAA Division II in goals by a considerable margin in 2014 while a junior at the University of North Alabama. “I wanted to come to America to play, and I had a couple of friends who I knew had played at UNA and coming halfway across the world is quite risk, so I wanted to go someplace where I knew I’d be happy.”
When she wanted to play over the summer, “My coach contacted a few teams and got hold of Chris Adams, the general manager, and they were really keen to have me come over here and play, and it’s not too far, which nice, and they’ve got a really good setup over here, so it seemed really good.”
Her goals are, “Just to learn, really. I’ve been playing with some great players around me that can really teach me something, so my aim is to learn something, to be really challenged, and become a much better player for the fall and hopefully just become a better all-around player and gain some really good experience.”
“It’s so different,” she said when asked about playing in the W-League. “The physicality is one thing I noticed straightaway. It’s a lot more pushy. Everybody is a lot stronger and physically fit, so once you get the ball you make the most of it, not taking too many touches, and you really make sure you’re mixing it up, and I have a lot less time to use the ball, so really to make sure I’m doing something when I have it.”
I noted that she was a deadly finisher, with every ball not just on net but in sides or corners out of reach of the goalkeeper. “Just lots of practice,” she explained. “I spent a long time last spring, a lot of practicing, just constant practice. I knew coming into this league it would be a lot tougher for me, so it’s just making the most of the opportunities that you have and making sure you finish them.”
“I’d love to carry on playing. This is why I’m here, and hopefully I can learn a lot, maybe get some interest with some teams, so maybe hopefully when I leave I can carry on playing professionally. ”
A name to remember: Chloe Richards.
On the home team side, I first talked with Annaugh Madsen, who’s been with Braddock Road since she was nine years old and is a redshirt freshman at Virginia after coming off a series of injuries. “I’ve been out for a couple of years, basically. First I had an ankle injury that put me out for six months and then after I came back from that after about a month I tore my labrum, so I had surgery on that. That took about a year.”
On paper, she was part of the team for their inaugural season but was never healthy enough to play, so this is her first experience with the team. “It’s been interesting. We’re building. We have a young team. Kristen’s our oldest player – she graduated from Wake. And we have a lot of pre-collegiate players from high school, but it’s good experience for them, so it’ll help prepare them for college, definitely.”
She’s only been able to play with Virginia in their spring exhibition matches, but even that’s been helpful. “It’s so competitive there. It’s quick, it’s very fast-paced there, so it helps coming into here is a little bit slower, so that helps.”
From the W-League she’s mostly looking at getting experience. “Definitely getting the game minutes in because I’ve been out for so long that I haven’t been able to get very many games in, so this will help me in getting back to match-fit, so just getting my touches back in the games.”
Next I talked with Amy Luttges, who despite being one of the youngest players on the team is one Best mentions regularly. She’s finishing her sophomore year in high school and has been with Braddock Road for about five years. “Larry took me under his wing and taught me everything I know.”
She’s found the W-League to be a great experience so far. “It helps me so much in terms of speed of play. The girls are great, and they really pass down their knowledge to me. And it’s so helpful when I go back to my own team that I can bring all these new ideas to them. And the competition is so helpful and just improves me so much.”
Asked what she’s working on over the summer, she said, “Ball-striking is my biggest weakness, like putting different textures on the passes and bent balls, shooting, that’s my biggest weakness.”
Braddock Road next takes on the Washington Spirit Reserves, Saturday, 6 pm, at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD.
Spirit Reserves start strong, then falter in opening match against Atlanta
The formidable but shorthanded Washington Spirit Reserves had their home opener Saturday against Atlanta and controlled the first half despite some unsurprising lack of coordination among players still getting used to each other. Forward Ashley Herndon, a rising junior at James Madison, got through early on and had only the goalkeeper to beat but couldn’t dodge around her. Then in the 29th minute Hofstra grad Amber Stobbs lofted a cross from the right sideline to Herndon just inside the far post. Herndon headed it toward goal, but goalkeeper Caroline Brockmeier was able to jump up and make the save. It was almost an instant replay a minute later, same cross, same head, but this time Herndon was able to put it away. In the 40th minute Duke midfielder Kara Wilson sent a ball over the top to an open Meggie Dougherty-Howard, a rising junior at Florida, who had no problems putting it away for the second score.
At halftime I had to leave for the professional match, but I thought the home team had things well in hand. Instead, they gave up two unassisted second-half goals from Florida State’s Cheyna Williams and had to settle for a draw.
Reserves’ assistant coach JP Sousa is quoted in the team press release as saying, “We have the ability to hold the ball and be dangerous moving forward in final third. We just gave them too many mistakes in the second half and their best player capitalized when it mattered. We didn’t lose, and we have little things to work on before Braddock Road next Saturday.”
Washington next takes on Braddock Road, Saturday, 6 pm, at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD.