On a night when many of DC’s most experienced players were unavailable, and the ones who were left just couldn’t put the final touch away, it was the youngsters who came to the rescue as 18-year-old Maddy Brown and 17-year-old Ashley Herndon – the two youngest players on the roster – scored two late goals to pull victory out of a match that seemed fated to be a scoreless draw. “The kids scored all the goals tonight,” head coach Mike Jorden pointed out with a laugh.
Players missing included Becky Sauerbrunn, Joanna Lohman, Lianne Sanderson, Caitlin Miskel, Holly King, and Sarah Sample – almost all of whom would have been in the starting lineup had they been available.
Despite that, DC dominated possession to an unprecedented extent during the game – you could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the Northern Virginia Majestics had anything resembling a dangerous possession deep, and they only got off two shots the entire game and none in the first half. Goalkeeper Danielle DeLisle didn’t have to make a single save. Captain and central defender Marisa Abegg said experience was helping. “The back four worked definitely as a unit tonight, which was nice. Not that we haven’t before, but it seems like we’re getting to a point in the season where everyone’s starting to click with each other, and we starting to learn where to be for somebody – if one person is going up, then where to cover for them, knowing their strengths and their weaknesses.”
At the other end, though, United seemed to be pounding on the door but were never able to get it open. In the 11th minute, central defender Jerica DeWolfe sent in a long ball to the head of midfielder Hayley Siegel, but the ball went right to Majestics goalkeeper Emma Kruse. In the 20th minute, forward Mikaela Howell fired a ball the Kruse could only block, ended up with the rebound, and shot again over the crossbar. The chances came fast and furious for the next few minutes: Howell shot from the right corner of the penalty area but right to Kruse, then right flank defender Danielle Malagari sent a cross in to the head of midfielder Carolyn Blank, who redirected the ball wide. In the best chance of the first half, midfielder Diana Weigel sent a low shot in that Kruse had to dive to block. Blank collected the rebound and immediately sent it back in, but Kruse managed to stop that one, too. There were numerous other opportunities as well, but they were either just a little off on the feed or the final touch or went wide or went right to Kruse.
Youth took over even more in the 38th minute as Blank, who was recovering from a concussion, had to be subbed out, replaced by 18-year-old Katie Yensen, the third-youngest player on the roster.
At halftime, Midfielder Hayley Siegel was philosophical. “Yeah, it was just the kind of game where the chances weren’t going in. And instead of getting frustrated, we just had to keep at it and believe that one of them would finally get tucked away. We had to be patient. We had to knock the ball around and wait till our chances came instead of rushing it, and eventually the chances came, even though we had to kind of settle down and take our time and then kind of go a little bit slower than just going straight and direct through it.”
Both teams came out in the second half determined to be more patient and methodical, and the game slowed down as a result. The Majestics kept possession more, though still without much to show for it other than denying DC as many opportunities. Another “kid” joined the fray in the 49th minute as the 27-year-old Malagari – the second-oldest player on the team – took a knock to the head and had to be replaced by 21-year-old Taylor Brown. The frustration continued, though, as Herndon sent a cross in that went through the goalkeepers fingers and to the feet of Howell, who proceeded to send the ball over the crossbar, over the high fence behind the goal, and into the woods. Just a few minutes later, Herndon dodged a defender outside the right post and took a shot from just a few yards out that bounced off of Kruse and went out. Weigel sent in a cross that Kruse got to first, then was subbed out for Maddy Brown, who’d just been brought up from DC’s U-20 roster that day because so many players were missing.
Herndon took another shot that looked as if it might sneak into the upper left corner but bounced off the post.
It took until the 73rd minute for the Black-and-Red to get on the scoreboard at last as Abegg started the play off a run forward from her central defender position. “I saw Hayley making a run through and finally got it to her feet. She shot/crossed it [from the right flank], and I think that was Maddy Brown that did just an incredible job of making sure it got in there.”
Herndon would get the insurance goal in the 82nd minute, fighting through defenders to get to a cross in from Brown and put it away. That was Herndon’s fourth goal in her last five games. Adding in an assist, she’s gotten points in her last five matches, the longest active streak on the team as Howell’s streak of eight was broken as she was kept off the scoreboard for the first time all season.
Captain Abegg and Coach Jorden were full of praise after the game for both young players. “Our young buck,” Abegg said of Herndon. “Watching her progressing from last season into this season has been really incredible. She is definitely a rising star and will probably be a part of this program for a long time. She’s someone to keep your eye on.” Jorden: “She’s a force out there. She’s creative. I’ve said it so many times, for 17 she’s light-years ahead of her age. She never stopped, and the goal she scored tonight’s a benefit of that.”
As for Maddy Brown, “Yeah, we just thought we needed a change and brought her in the middle of the second half and that’s where her strong point is, just beating people to balls, and as a striker as well she puts a lot of pressure on their backs, so she changed the game a little bit and then got on the end of that goal, which was great for us.”
“She does a great job,” Abegg said of Brown. “She is so athletic and really just dominates teams in her ability to get to balls that may not be played exactly where they should be but is just able to get by. I haven’t seen her play for the 20’s yet this season, but I’m sure she’s done just a fantastic job for them, too, and has been a real playmaker for them up top.”
The win gives the DC United Women an 8-0-1 record with three games to go. They need just another three points to win their division and thereby clinch a playoff spot, and winning their remaining matches would ensure that they host the Eastern Conference playoffs, the winner of which will go to the W-League Final Four in Ottawa.
Their next match is Sunday, July 1, at 5 pm at the Soccerplex against the Fredericksburg Impact, a team that has to be looking for revenge after enduring a 5-0 smackdown in their last match against the United Women.