Franny Ordega had a career match to lead the Spirit to their first win of 2017.
Driving to the Soccerplex on Saturday, I was already composing this article in expectation of another lackluster performance. “Should the Spirit change their name? Spirit is the one thing that they’ve seemed to lack this season.” I was also going to note that Francisca Ordega seemed too fragile for this league, too often being bumped off the ball.
Shows what I know.
An almost unrecognizable team showed up Saturday evening, especially in the first half: completing passes, making runs off the ball, and showing an intensity that had been lacking in their previous three matches. And far from being a fragile flower, Ordega was muscling defenders off the ball in what some were calling the best NWSL performance of 2017 as she played a role in all four Washington goals: scoring two, assisting on one, and contributing to an own goal with a shot across the goalmouth.
Spirit forward Francisca Ordega is determined to fill the gap left by Crystal Dunn.
After a strong 4-0-1 start, it’s been a question of which Washington Spirit team will show up: the one that shut down the Orlando Pride, or the one that gave up two goals to a struggling Sky Blue team? After two shaky performances, tonight it was the former, as Washington came out with energy and enthusiasm, scored an early goal, and put away the rival Chicago Red Stars, 2-0.
The win officially puts the Spirit in third place in the standings, but in terms of points earned per game played, they’re tops in the league.
The first goal came in the 20th minute, Christine Nairn feeding the ball to an onrushing Estefania Banini. Banini did a give-and-go with Francisca Ordega that got her to the left corner of the six-yard box, and she sent the ball just inside the right post from there. Meanwhile, despite being a little sloppy at times and turning the ball over, Washington was passing the ball around well.
The Washington Spirit were 258 minutes into a 360-minute homestand. Given how rarely they lose at home, going into the series twelve standings points weren’t out of the question and any fewer than eight would be a serious disappointment.
This was also the first weekend without the Olympic-bound players, a period you would think the Spirit would be dominant given head coach Jim Gabarra’s claim that his team has the deepest bench in the league.
But here they were 78 minutes into a scoreless tie against a struggling FC Kansas City team likely ending up with a mere four points in three games with the toughest opponent yet to play.
Then came the 79th minute. Caprice Dydasco in only her second game of the season sent a long ball toward the right corner. Christine Nairn made a Matheson-esque run to get to the ball before it went out, then sent it to Dydasco near the top right corner of the box. She sent it into the box where Francisca Ordega tried a bicycle kick but went to the ground. The ball came to Joanna Lohman facing goal, but she tripped before she could do more than push the ball slightly toward goal. Kansas City’s Yael Averbuch tried to clear it but sent it right to Ordega, who quickly stepped to her right and sent it toward goal with her right foot, nutmegging a defender whose leg redirected it into the lower left corner, away from a lunging Nicole Barnhart.
It was a flukey goal, but it changed the complexion of the game, the homestand, and possibly the season.
On an emotional night at the Soccerplex, play stopped in the 49th minute as fans and players alike remembered those who were murdered in Orlando. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Spirit.)
Play-by-play announcer Michael Minnich was the first to recognize the 49th minute commemoration by falling silent. It took fans about ten seconds to join in. Play on the field ceased a few seconds later as – at Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra’s behest – Orlando’s Kristen Edmonds stopped with her foot on the ball. As the applause grew, Washington’s Diana Matheson suggested that Edmonds pass the ball back to her goalkeeper, and she did. Ashlyn Harris collected the ball and stood with it at her feet as she joined in the applause.
After fifteen seconds or so, Harris tapped her chest twice with her goalkeeper’s glove and touched her lips, then started moving the ball so she could put it back into play. While continuing to recognize the fan appreciation, she took it to just outside of the top of the box, then five seconds after the minute was over kicked it back into the midfield.
It was appropriate that Gabarra initiated the on-field commemoration, as he’s been there before. “9-11, we played a game up in New York. This was similar, with the fear and the effect that it has on everybody. I felt it was important for us to show a sign of unity. To be able to do what we did in the 49th minute where both teams stopped play, the ball wasn’t knocked out of bounds, the referee didn’t blow the whistle, we showed a sign of unity within the competitive environment for what’s happened. It was an important sign, and we were glad to do it.”
I doubt any of the 5,750 there (a Soccerplex WoSo record) will forget the moment, and it will certainly be remembered much longer than the game itself.
It wasn’t that long ago that a soccer version of Murphy’s Law seemed to govern the Washington Spirit: anything that could go wrong would, and even playing well didn’t ensure success. Playing as badly as they did Saturday night would have been a disaster on the scoreboard. Instead, in second-half stoppage time Crystal Dunn found Francisca Ordega with a long ball over the top that left Sky Blue goalkeeper Brittany Cameron in no-man’s land, too far out to protect the goal but not far enough out to get to the ball. Ordega collected the ball, dodged past Cameron, and put it away in the open net.
Head coach Mark Parsons, normally loquacious, was terse and pointed in the post-game interview. When asked why he only subbed twice in a game where the Spirit were struggling for chances, he said, “I couldn’t make more subs because I couldn’t decide who deserved to come off more. Because it was bad. Really bad. And they know it. About the 60th minute, I’m already thinking about training and I wouldn’t know where to start, because there were about 200 things you would want to touch on.”
Double goal-scorer Christine Nairn collects a throw-in from Alex Singer.
The Washington Spirit won their season home opener for the first time in team history, downing the defending NWSL champion FC Kansas City, 3-1, on two goals from Christine Nairn and one from Crystal Dunn before a packed crowd of 4,136.