Maddie Huster (left) warms up while Rachel Moore (right) awaits her turn. (Washington Spirit photo)
For me, the 2018 NWSL draft was the culmination of the last four years (and more) of covering the elite amateur teams in the Washington, DC, area, as half-a-dozen of the players I’d been covering were picked for a shot at going professional. I stopped by the Washington Spirit’s third day of practice, on Wednesday, February 21st, to talk with as many of them as I could.
Head coach Jim Gabarra talked about picking “homegrown” talent. “We’re fortunate to bring that quality of players in who have an attachment to the area or the Reserve team or teams past. It’s always good to give future generations the real true carrot, the pathway to the professional team by showing that we’ll at least give a chance to those we’ve had in as Reserves.”
I asked did he think it made it easier for those with experience with the organization to make the transition. “Yes, I think it does. The psychological part of coming into a pro team or into a national team, if you haven’t ever been there, the first couple of days, the first phase is always difficult. And this way we’ve got players in our DA or on our reserve teams that have been in training sessions with the pro team, so it’s something they’ve gone through. So they get to know you, and the comfort level is a lot higher.” Continue reading →
Braddock Road captain and U-23 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl should be one of their few longtime veterans back next season. (Photo by Larry J. Clark)
Last Saturday I turned off of Braddock Road onto Sideburn Road and approached the vicinity of the Robinson High School turf field that the Stars Elite play on. I was somewhat nonplussed to note the dearth of vehicles parked by the side of the road, though I quickly realized the game must have been cancelled for some reason. Sure enough, once I parked and came over, I found head coach Larry Best, operations manager Margie Madsen, the referees, and two ballgirls and their parents. But no players: the Legacy-W76 team out of Williamsburg had – according to Madsen – dithered since the previous evening over whether or not to make the trip with just eight or nine players and had even set off, but at Richmond turned around and went back home. Best said they’d have been willing to loan them some players and play for fun, but that offer was not accepted.
So I was deprived of one last opportunity to see the phenomenal young Aria Nagai – “the best 15-year-old in the country” according to Best – as well as longtime Braddock Road mainstays like Natalie Larkin and Rachel Moore, who will almost certainly find better things to do with their summers after graduation than play in the WPSL. Best expects Larkin to move into the real world while he sees Moore playing overseas somewhere. Meanwhile, star player and U-23 national teamer Kaleigh Riehl – a red-shirt sophomore at Penn State – should be around for another couple of years.
On top of that, a few days later I received a couple of messages from Washington Spirit Reserves assistant coach J.P. Sousa indicating that the Reserves would not be participating in the WPSL playoffs because they couldn’t be assured of having enough players for the championship round. That’s what happened last year: the Reserves participated in and won the East Conference, then found they wouldn’t be able to muster enough players, so the Boston Breakers Reserves went in their stead and ended up as WPSL champions, despite Washington beating them, 3-1, in the East final. They thought it was unfair to have that happen again, and I have to agree with them. Continue reading →
2015 USL W-League Champion Washington Spirit Reserves
One year ago today – well, besides a certain team winning a world championship – the Washington Spirit Reserves and the Braddock Road Stars Elite (now the Washington Spirit Academy) faced each other close to full-strength. There were numerous players to watch on both rosters, so I made a record of the names and vowed to come back once a year to review where the players are now. So here’s the first entry:
Playing professionally in the NWSL: Caroline Casey (Sky Blue), Carson Pickett* (Seattle Reign).
Playing professionally overseas: Kara Wilson (Speranza FC Osaka Takatsuki, Japan), Sarah Zadrazil (Turbine Potsdam, Germany), Amber Stobbs (Reading FC, England). Continue reading →
Wake Forest rising junior Maddie Huster (left) keeps an eye on Osbourn Park High School rising senior Myra Konte as Ashley Herndon (far left) looks on.
When the ageless Joanna Lohman was the general manager of the Washington Freedom’s elite amateur team, she decided they should be dubbed the “Futures” rather than the “Reserves”. Applying that to the Washington Spirit’s two WPSL teams, the Reserves and the Academy, you can think of them as the “Near Futures” and the “Far Futures.”
The Reserves have players available for professional appearances like emergency goalkeeper DiDi Haracic and draft pick Alli Murphy, as well as a healthy share of the U-23 national team roster. The Academy, meanwhile, have five players on the U-20 national team – who were not available for this game – along with a bevy of talented players of similar ages or even younger. In fact, head coach Larry Best started five players who have yet to play in college and subbed in three more.
Despite the age difference, it was an intensely competitive match. The Reserves had the talent, but the Academy had been brought up in the Braddock Road style and worked together extremely well. Both teams put on a demonstration of quality possession soccer. Continue reading →
It’s a different landscape for elite women’s soccer in the DC-area this year. With the folding of the W-League, the Spirit Reserves and the Braddock Road Stars Elite (now the Washington Spirit Academy) have come over to the Women’s Premier Soccer League to help form the Colonial Division along with perennial WPSL powerhouse ASA Chesapeake Charge. This means that the Charge and the Spirit teams – long separated by the lack of love between the W-League and the WPSL – will finally play each other for the first time ever, and in home-and-home series. That’s certainly something I’m looking forward to.
The remaining teams in the division are Fredericksburg FC, the Richmond Strikers, and Virginia Beach City FC, but I’m just going to look at the aforementioned ones that I’ve been following. Continue reading →