W-League/WPSL: DC-area AmWoSo end of June update

Due to a combination of a bad cold followed by an ear infection along with spending lots of time watching the Women’s World Cup, I’ve scarcely posted any updates on how the DC-area amateur teams have been doing this summer. So this post is going to cover a lot of territory.

Washington Spirit Reserves

Following the previously reported disappointing 2-2 draw at home against the Atlanta Silverbacks, the Reserves got back on track with a 7-0 demolition of the Braddock Road Stars Elite, also at home.

They then faced the most challenging part of their season, with 3 away games in 4 days against the teams at the heart of the Southeastern Conference. That ended up more like Sherman marching through Georgia, with Washington notching wins in all 3 matches. On Friday, June 12, they downed the Charlotte Lady Eagles, 3-2, with 2 goals from Midge Purce and 1 from Imani Dorsey. On Saturday, Atlanta proved to be no obstacle with the Reserves getting 4 goals from 4 different players enroute to a 4-0 victory. The trip concluded with a 2-1 win on Monday over the Carolina Elite Cobras.

The Reserves had a rematch with the Cobras on the 20th in Bethesda that the home team dominated but was unable to score in the first half even after being awarded a penalty kick. (Meggie Dougherty-Howard’s attempt was saved.) Then 6 minutes into the second half the match was halted due to lightning. With at least a half having been played, the match went into the record books as a 0-0 draw.

That set up a two-match showdown on June 25 and 26 between the Spirit Reserves and the also undefeated Dayton Dutch Lions that would decide first place in the Southeastern Conference.

The issue ended up being all but settled in the first 30 minutes of the first match. Just 16 minutes in, Midge Purce brought the ball down the right side and sent a cross in that Imani Dorsey redirected in from the near post. In the 23rd minute, Yanara Aedo sent a nice through ball in to Dorsey, who headed for the top left corner of the penalty area. Dayton goalkeeper Ayanna Parker came out to try to grab the ball but missed. Dorsey dodged around her and crossed the ball in to Meggie Dougherty-Howard, who had an easy putaway into the open net. Aedo sent in another beautiful through ball 6 minutes later to Sarah Zadrazil, who when challenged by Parker tucked the ball neatly into the lower right corner.

Dayton got one back in the 35th minute when the ball came into the goalmouth off a corner kick. Ode Fulutudilo turned and knocked the ball in from point-blank range past goalkeeper Erin Quinn.

The Reserves would get another in the 40th minute when the Dutch Lions botched defending a corner kick from the left, allowing Aedo to get to the corner of the box unmarked. Maddie Huster sent the ball from the corner to her, and Aedo quickly crossed it in to Dorsey, who headed it into the net. The final goal would come in the 59th minute on a through ball from Zadrazil to Purce. The final whistle blew with the score at 5-1.

The rematch the following evening (which I missed due to WWC action) ended with a 3-0 Washington victory keyed on goals from Zadrazil, Carson Pickett, and Dougherty-Howard, all in the first 30 minutes.

So at the end of June Washington is a point clear of Dayton with a game in hand. Braddock Road, Carolina, and Atlanta have been eliminated from the playoff hunt.

“We wanted to prove that we were the team that belongs at the top of the table,” said assistant coach JP Sousa after the first match, “and this was our opportunity to take. And our girls were ready for that. Everybody came with the right frame of mind, and it worked. This first game we wanted to come out and make a statement, play hard and play well, score some goals early and see how the game took us.”

Austrian National Teamer Sarah Zadrazil joined the Reserves this year.

Austrian National Teamer Sarah Zadrazil joined the Reserves this year.

I also talked with two of the new players for this season, including the most exotic one, Sarah Zadrazil. She hails from St. Gilgen, Austria (near Salzburg), and is currently a member of the Austrian national team. A rising senior at East Tennessee State University, she hooked up with the Reserves because her college coach, being English, knew Spirit pro coach Mark Parsons. “It’s great that I got the opportunity to play here,” she says. “Practicing with the pro team is a great experience. I think I’ve already learned a lot just being here. Great teammates, great performance.”

The other was Florida State Seminole Carson Pickett, who’s one of the 3 U-23 national teamers on the roster. From Jacksonville, FL, she says she joined the Reserve because “Next year I want to be in NWSL so I thought it would be a good idea to be in an organization within NWSL so that I get to practice with the pro team. Plus I heard it was a great team and a great organization.”

Florida State Seminole and U-23 national teamer Carson Pickett.

Florida State Seminole and U-23 national teamer Carson Pickett.

She hasn’t been disappointed so far. “It’s been awesome. It’s been nothing short of amazing. It’s nice being with the pro team and then with the W-League team. The level doesn’t drop that much. It’s really nice to be able to practice with both.”

She’s used her time with the Reserves to get used to a new position. “I changed from left-mid to left-back in the past year, so I’m working on getting forward a lot more and being a better 1-v-1 defender and making sure nothing happens on the outside where I play.”

She’s appreciative of the level of play in the W-League. “I think it’s nice to be in these games with other great opponents. I think it’s a great level. It’s much easier to learn when you have the best players coming at you.”

Washington has 4 games remaining in their regular season: hosting Charlotte on Thursday, July 2, away against Braddock Road on July 5 (Sunday) and 15 (Wednesday), and a long ride to play Dayton on July 11.

Braddock Road Stars Elite

The other local W-League team has had much more limited success. While there have been no more 7-0 losses after the ones to Atlanta and Washington, wins have still been hard to come by. The Stars Elite went on a southern road trip overlapping with Washington’s but had 2 straight 2-0 losses, to Charlotte on June 11 and to Carolina on June 12. Despite the losses, head coach Larry Best said, “The second half of the Charlotte game might have been our best half of the whole season. We were really good against them. We didn’t get anything out of it, but we played really well.”

They returned home for a rematch with Carolina on June 21 and were able to take the lead in the 26th minute on only their third goal of the season. Rachel Moore took a corner kick from the right spot and sent it to the far post. U-20 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl collected it there and sent it into the goalmouth where Chris Meyers had an easy putaway. In the 40th minute they were able to double their lead after Moore was tripped in the box. Riehl took the ensuing PK and coolly slotted the ball into the lower right corner.

The Cobras came out strong in the second half and peppered the Stars Elite with 11 shots, but with Rose Chandler in the net, all of them were either wide of the mark or saved. The home team would hang on for a 2-0 victory, their first of the season.

I was really proud of our kids,” said Best. “Defensively we played better all over the field. We were very good on the ball, very calm on the ball. I thought we were better defensively, all over the field and not just defenders but everybody on the field.”

U-20 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl had a goal and assist in Braddock Road's first win of 2015.

U-20 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl had a goal and assist in Braddock Road’s first win of 2015.

Riehl started at Penn State in January. So far she’s only participated in practices and exhibition games, but some of those were particularly challenging. “We played a couple of pro teams, which was a great experience. They were really tough games, and we didn’t come out with the win, but it was a learning experience.”

About Braddock Road, she said, “We’ve struggled a little bit because many of our players haven’t had experience with college, about half have and half haven’t, while the teams we play against all their players are pretty much in college or out of college. We struggled a little bit, but we pulled out a win here, which is good. Hopefully we’ll pull out another.”

As for the day’s success, she said, “We’ve been moving people around everywhere, and I think the lineup today really worked for us.”

'96er Chris Meyers joined Braddock Road's W-League team this year.

’96er Chris Meyers joined Braddock Road’s W-League team this year.

The other goal-scorer, Chris Meyers, has been with the Braddock Road organization “since the very beginning, U-9”. She’s heading to Mary Washington in the fall.

New to the W-League team, she described it as, “It’s awesome. It’s a little scary at first, but the experience is indescribable. You get to play with these women who are so good. It really helps to sharpen your skills, get my fitness level up. This is really good for development. It’s a lot of fun playing with them.

“It’s really just the playing experience you can’t really get anywhere else. Playing against these women, they’re so sharp, they’re so fit, they’re so strong. It’s really good preparation; it’s college-level soccer, basically. I always like playing with the ’95s because it’s so good developmentally. They’re really good to learn from.”

The following Sunday they faced the Dayton Dutch Lions and were missing their best attacking player (Kahla Seymour), and their second-best (Olivia Fiegel) wasn’t healthy enough to start. As a result, they were completely outplayed in the first half: 9 shots to 0, 5 SOG to 0, 4 CK to 0. It was only a sensational performance from goalkeeper Rose Chandler that kept them in it at all.

That continued until the 65th minute when Fiegel subbed in. 12 minutes later, she received a through ball from Moore. She battled for it with a defender and won, then sent a cross into the box to Jennifer Boyles. Boyles collected the ball, dodged a bit to give herself a better angle on goal, and sent the ball into the net. It was the first shot of the game for the Stars Elite, and it scored.

“Liv’s a difference-maker,” said Best, “but her hamstring has been bad, and we haven’t been playing her. She played last week, but she didn’t play in our U-20 match because we’re trying to be very careful with her because she’s young, she’s 16.”

Unfortunately, the lead would last all of 3 minutes. Dayton brought the ball forward and got a crowd into the box. Elizabeth Leedom found an open Meghan Blank, who turned quickly and sent the ball into the lower right corner.

Then 7 minutes later Blank would send the ball through to second-half sub Ode Fulutidulu, who came in 1-on-1 against Chandler and was able to dodge around her and put the ball into the open net.

U-20 national teamer Rose Chandler is using the summer with Braddock Road to get back into shape after an injury.

U-20 national teamer Rose Chandler is using the summer with Braddock Road to get back into shape after an injury.

Chandler attributed the goals to a loss of concentration after getting the lead. “Big 5 moments are first 5 minutes of the half, last 5 minutes of the half, and 5 minutes after a goal is scored. Those are critical periods, you have to get a lot of experience with those. We have a lot of younger players on the field who are trying to adjust and learn how to play at this level, so they were able to capitalize on a big 5 moment and come back and change the momentum and put 2 goals on us after we scored. So we’ve just got to learn how to manage the game.”

The starting goalkeeper for last year’s U-20 WWC team, she’s one of just two players on the roster who come from outside the Braddock Road system. (The other is captain Kristen Meier, who tore her ACL against the Spirit Reserves.) “I’ve had the national team experience with Kaleigh and Carlyn, and they speak very highly about Larry, and I wanted that kind of training environment, so I decided to come here, just get in here with Larry and play with my good friends.”

About the experience, she said, “I really enjoy playing with these younger players. They really want to learn. Kelsey [Kiley], she’s a younger player, I love having her in the center-back position. She’s always asking me questions. She’s always eager to figure something out. I played with Lex [Anderson], too, she was on the outside, and Keil [McCarthy], so we had a lot of younger players. We had Amy [Luttges] in the midfield. At the end of the day we’re all going to struggle in the game, especially the younger players, but they’re eager to be out here and eager to learn, so that’s really exciting, having some leadership and getting to help them long in this process. Because I was in their position a few years ago, so it’s interesting that the tables have turned, and I get to help them out. In college, I’m on the younger side, so I know how it feels to be a younger player when older players step up and bring you in and want to help you and guide you, it means a lot, and it helps with team chemistry. They’re eager to learn, I’m eager to help them, and I can learn a lot from them, too.”

She’s coming off of an injury, so the summer experience has been invaluable to her getting back into shape. “Just get some games in and start feeling like myself again. I got cleared from my injury at the beginning of June, so I’m just getting back into it. So just getting out and playing in these games is my goal.”

Natalie Larkin returns to Braddock Road after a year at Princeton.

Natalie Larkin returns to Braddock Road after a year at Princeton.

I also talked with defender Natalie Larkin, one of the core 95ers who just finished her freshman year at Princeton. She said her first summer in the W-League was very helpful. “I think it was a big advantage just having played against players who were bigger, faster, stronger was something that really helped me be prepared for the physicality that I faced my first season. I don’t think I would have been as ready if I hadn’t had this opportunity.”

This summer she’s working on, “How to use your body, how to escape the physicality when you need to, especially playing with younger players who don’t have that, it gives you more of a mental challenge figuring out when and were to play.”

Braddock Road has 4 games left in their season, Friday at home against Charlotte, July 5 and 15 at home against Washington, and on the road on July 11 at Atlanta.

WPSL: ASA Chesapeake Charge, ACF Torino USA

Due to the aforementioned complications, I haven’t made it to a WPSL match this year other than the Charge’s home opener. (This will change next month.)

The Charge have done fine without me, though: they’re 5-0-0 and have scored 18 goals while giving up just 4. With the regular season in the South Atlantic Division just 8 games long, they’re comfortably in the driver’s seat for first place in the division and the lone playoff spot.

On the other hand, Torino’s ambitions to challenge the Charge for that spot have sadly not been realized. The team is 0-3-2 with 3 goals scored and 8 allowed, and that’s against the three new teams in the division – they haven’t even had to face their Maryland rivals yet.

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