Breaking NewsBriana ScurryJim Gabarra

The first big move of the offseason for the Washington Spirit was announced on Wednesday afternoon. After assistant coach Denise Reddy left the Spirit to take over as the head coach of Sky Blue FC, Washington was left in need of a new first assistant to head coach Jim Gabarra. The club announced that former USWNT goalkeeper Briana Scurry will fill the role for Washington.

On top of her duties as an assistant on the full team staff, Scurry will also serve as the Techincal Advisor for the Spirit Academy programs in both Maryland and Virginia.

Scurry returns to the D.C. area after playing for the Washington Freedom from 2009-2010. She has attended numerous Spirit home games and was recognized as an Honorary Captain for the team in 2016.

“I’ve always been a loyal fan of the Washington Spirit and now I have the wonderful opportunity to truly be a part of the team,” Scurry said. “I’m excited to bring my experiences and knowledge to our players, and to contribute in an effective and positive manner to the culture of the team and organization as a whole.”

The former USWNT goalkeeper is most well known for her role in the iconic 1999 World Cup Final penalty shootout. Scurry had one save in the final that helped the team win on a Brandi Chastain kick. On top of being a World Cup champion, she also holds two Olympic gold medals from the 1996 and 2004 tournaments.

“We could not possibly be more excited and grateful to have Bri join our Spirit family,” said Spirit Head Coach and General Manager Jim Gabarra. “Bri brings an immense level of resources and experience that will help our players grow and develop. I look forward to working with her and helping her in her own personal growth and development.”

This week, the Spirit also announced this week the scheduling of two preseason matches. The first will take place on March 10 at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va. The match will feature the University of North Carolina for the second straight season.

Richmond, Va. will host it’s first ever NWSL event as the Spirit will head south to take on the North Carolina Courage. The match will take place on March 17 at City Stadium. This will be the first time the Spirit will play another NWSL team in a preseason match. Tickets for this match will go on sale Friday, December 8.

Estefania Banini

On Wednesday, September 20, Argentine goalkeeper Elisabeth Minnig posted a message on Twitter announcing that the women’s national team would go on strike. Poor travel and training conditions, along with pay, were issues brought up in the statement.

According to a report from the Equalizer, players are paid roughly $8.50, or 150 pesos, per training session and were forced to sleep on a bus for a recent friendly, the team’s first in over two years.

After last weekend’s match vs. the Boston Breakers, I spoke with Argentine and Washington Spirit forward Estefania Banini about the decision to go on strike.


Follow Your Spirit: Can you talk about the team’s decision to go on strike?

Estefania Banini: The reality is the girls expressed in a letter that they are asking for some basic conditions. I think that [AFA] has many resources to start supporting the women’s team. I think that now is the time that our voices should be heard so that the women’s team in Argentina grows to the level that we need to be. It is good that we are bringing these things to light because many things were talked about, even when I was not playing games with them, but apparently, the conditions were very bad so it’s good that they are pressing on.

FYS: It’s been almost two years since a game, why is this happening now?

EB: Because I believe that we are tired of waiting. They said they were going to change things and they haven’t really changed. I think that when they constantly promise and then don’t comply then I think that’s the moment where we must do these things in order to make them listen and pay Attention. And what the team is doing [striking] takes valor.

FYS: What does the team look for to gain with the strike?

EB: The truth is basic conditions. We are not asking for them to pay us the same as the men. We are asking for basic rights. Travel and stay in a hotel, good food, to be able to rest well. The girls there do not have a professional league. When they go to the national team, they have to miss work or their studies, and that generates costs. What we are asking for is a compensation, something economical, so that it covers costs when they come to train. So just the basics.

FYS: What impact does the team hope to have on the federation?

EB: Hopefully that we have an impact and that it works out. We really hope what happened is a good starting point for us to grow. But it depends on the federation and the people in charge of making the decisions.

 

Translation assisted by Sandra Herrera.

Alyssa KleinerCali FarquharsonEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKassey KallmanStephanie Labbe

On Saturday afternoon, the league-leading North Carolina Courage played host to the visiting Washington Spirit. The Courage came away with all three points in a 2-0 victory in front of 3530 fans at the WakeMed Soccer Park.

After the first 10 minutes of the match, the Washington Spirit took control of the game. The Spirit’s backline of Estelle Johnson, Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman and Caprice Dydasco was able to limit the strong attack of the Courage to just one shot on goal in the first half. However, to start the second half, Estelle Johnson was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner because of an illness.

“She felt sick to her stomach, like she was going to throw up,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “It was probably 20 minutes in. We checked her at the water break and wanted to get her through halftime. At halftime, we didn’t want to put her out there in a depleted situation where she was dehydrated and didn’t feel good.”

When the second half kicked off, the Courage came out fired up. Within the first minute, the ball was played out wide to Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton played the ball across the box and after multiple missed clearances by the Washington defense, forward Ashley Hatch slotted her shot past Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé to give the Courage a 1-0 lead.

“The first one was right off the kickoff. It felt like they were dribbling and the seas kind of opened. No one was really stepping to put pressure on it and we were a bit passive and on our heels a bit on that,” Labbé said. “It’s just a quick reminder that coming out in the second half, just because the first half went well, you have to put in the hard work at the beginning of the second half to make sure you’re up at that level again.”

In the 84th minute, the Spirit put themselves in an even deeper hole with an own goal. North Carolina’s Sam Mewis played in a corner kick that bounced around in the box with multiple failed clearances by the Spirit. A clearance off the line from Cali Farquharson deflected off the face of Kallman before finding the back of the net.

Prior to the game, the Spirit announced that midfielder Kristie Mewis would be unavailable for the match because of an upcoming trade. It appears as if the trade will be announced on Monday.

“We’re in a situation where we have some extra depth and if we can get some good value for players maybe moving to a team that’s got something to play for to get into the playoffs and get a piece or a draft pick for the future that’s going to help us next year,” Gabarra said after the game. “Yeah, we’re not giving up on this year and looking towards next year but at the same time, you have to take advantage of the assets you have and if someone is interested in a player and they come to us, we’re going to consider it.”

Washington returns to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, August 26 to take on the Chicago Red Stars. For that match, Francisca Ordega and Kelsey Wys could be off the 45-day disabled list, according to Gabarra. Kickoff for the match is 7 p.m.

Cheyna WilliamsDiDi HaracicEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim Gabarra

After more than a month on the road, the Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the Boston Breakers. Despite having the lead twice in the match, the Spirit would only take away one point in the 2-2 draw.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Haracic; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Banini, Dougherty Howard, Huster; Pugh, Ship, Solaun

Washington opened the scoring in the sixth minute on a goal from Estelle Johnson. The right back, who has been more engaged in the attack in recent weeks, saw her original shot blocked by Boston goalkeeper Abby Smith. The rebound fell right to Johnson who slotted home her second goal of the season.

“We worked all week on getting a lot of numbers forward and one thing that they really wanted from me is to contribute more to the attack,” Johnson said after the game.” I just saw it happening and we work a lot on passing patterns. I saw it happening in my head and I was like this is my chance. I kind of stole it from [Solaun] but sometimes you have to take initiative to get what you want.”

The Spirit looked as if they would take a 1-0 lead into the half, but a goal from Canadian international Adriana Leon brought the visitors back even. Leon tucked home her first of two goals on the afternoon just past Spirit goalkeeper DiDi Haracic in the 44th minute.

Around the halfway point of the second half, forward Cheyna Williams reclaimed the lead for the home side. Forward Estefania Banini played a ball towards the Boston goal where Smith made a tip save off the bar. The rebound, however, would fall right to the waiting head of Williams, who tapped the ball just over the goal line.

Leon would complete her brace in the 79th minute with the help of forward Ifeoma Onumonu. As Leon broke towards the center of the box, Onumonu played a ball across the face of goal, connecting with Leon’s left foot for the equalizer.

The tie on Saturday completed a stretch of three games in eight days for Washington. In total, 17 different players saw the field for the Spirit over the three game stretch. Haracic saw her first game action as a member of the Spirit on Saturday, making one save in the tie.

“We were always going to rotate the roster and that included the goalkeeper,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “DiDi has done a great job in training and deserved a game at some point.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Haracic during her first match for the Washington Spirit.

For Haracic, a Round Hill, VA native, it was an opportunity to play a professional match close to home. It was her first time playing at the Maryland SoccerPlex as a professional, but her experience as a member of the Spirit Reserves and D.C. United Women helped her get to where she is today.

“It’s a great opportunity to be playing back at home,” Haracic said after the game. “This league has grown so much from D.C. United Women to being on the Reserves to now being here. It was a great opportunity with a great crowd and a good atmosphere. I enjoyed it.”

Washington returns to action next Saturday, August 19 as they travel to Cary, NC to take on the North Carolina Courage. The game will be broadcasted on Lifetime as part of the Game of the Week series. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with kickoff to follow at 3:50 p.m. The Spirit return to the Plex on August 26 to take on the Chicago Red Stars.

Meggie Dougherty Howard

The sign of a good defensive midfielder is when she can go unnoticed in a game. If she is doing her job, you’ll very rarely hear about her. The Washington Spirit have had one of the best defensive midfielders in the league since the team was founded in 2012 in Tori Huster. Now, they have a rising young star who is getting to learn from one of the best. Rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard has quietly had a great freshman campaign alongside Huster.

Dougherty Howard began her soccer career in Largo, Florida at the age of four. Her older sister played soccer so that’s what Meggie did. With her sister being three years older, Dougherty Howard very rarely played at her own age level. When she did, it wasn’t with normal competition.

“I always loved [soccer] because as I got older, I played years up in club so I actually got to play with my sister a lot at the club we were at. That was really cool,” Dougherty Howard said. “When I was playing my own age, I was playing with guys. I was the only girl on an all-guys team until I was 17.”

When it came time to go to college, Dougherty Howard wanted to get out of Florida. Then the University of Florida came calling. Dougherty Howard’s club coach, George Fotopoulos’ wife Danielle is a legend at Florida and was one of the reasons Dougherty Howard gave the Gators a look.

“Going to Florida was definitely one of the best decisions I could have made in terms of my development as a player and then also just the relationships I’ve had with the coaches and my teammates,” Dougherty Howard said. “They made it such a great environment for me to grow in so many aspects on the field and off.”

To continue to get better, Dougherty Howard decided to spend the summer of 2015 in Washington playing for the Spirit Reserves. After two summers with the squad, Dougherty Howard had gained experience that would help her eventually get drafted by the Spirit.

“The first summer I came it was definitely an eye opening experience because college is a competitive environment and definitely a step up from club but at the college level, there are players who are higher and there’s players that are lower, freshman to seniors, a lot of growing in between there,” Dougherty Howard said. “Obviously having KJ [Spisak] as a coach was really awesome and great and I learned a lot from her and she had a direct line in from Mark [Parsons] who was here the first year, and then Jim [Gabarra] obviously last year in terms of the direction that the organization was going with and how the pro team plays and how they wanted that to transfer to the way that the Reserves were playing. That just helped me prepare myself to come into an environment where I had to be playing at that high level.”

Dougherty Howard returned to the University of Florida sharp and ready for preseason. Having the opportunity to practice with professionals helped set her apart in the SEC.

“Being able to jump in training with the pros, it’s the only way that you’re going to be able to get better is by playing with people who are better than you. I think that really helped me grow and that experience has helped me tremendously.”

In January of 2017, Dougherty Howard was in California for U.S. national team camp before heading to the All-American banquet. When it came time for the NWSL Draft, she didn’t have any family in Los Angeles for the event. Fortunately for Dougherty Howard, both her club coach, George Fotopoulos, and college coach, Becky Burleigh, were there for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention.

“I am so thankful that they were both there with me. It was definitely nice to have a familiar face, someone who is like family there with you. It’s definitely stressful and you don’t know what’s going to happen until it finally does,” Dougherty Howard said. “I kind of just trusted that God had a plan for me and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. Thankfully I wound up here and I’m super happy to be part of this team.”

Dougherty Howard has played in 12 games this season and has drawn great praise from her head coach. Unlike most rookies in the league, it seems as if Dougherty Howard has fit right in as a starter on the Spirit.

“She’s got great feet and we saw that last year when she trained with us all season,” Gabarra said of Dougherty Howard after a match vs. Kansas City on May 20, 2017. “She understands how we want to play and that’s how she wants to play. She wants to play one or two touch and she’s got a very good tactical awareness of where to play the ball and where to play the ball to make the player she’s playing it to have a good chance to succeed. I think you could see last year she fit right in and it was just something that is part of who she is as a player. She fits to how we want to play and that’s one of the reasons we were so happy to be able to draft her.”

While Tori Huster was out earlier in the season, Dougherty Howard was forced to carry much of the load on the defensive side of the midfield. With Huster back, the duo is one of the best defensive midfield units in the league. Huster’s leadership has helped make the transition to the professional level a smooth one for the rookie.

“Tori obviously is one of the most veteran players on our team and brings a lot in terms of what she can do on the field but then also just her knowledge,” Dougherty Howard said. “I think she does a great job of communicating with us and just helping whenever we might have questions or anything. Then also just being a good person to work with and open to having communication. That’s definitely helpful.”

After the game against Orlando on July 8th, Dougherty Howard began to garner national attention with her passing abilities. To anyone that has seen a few Spirit games this season, the praise from around the league is much overdue. With defensive midfielders being hard to come by at the national team level, don’t be surprised if Dougherty Howard is on the radar of USWNT head coach Jill Ellis in the near future.

Estelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit traveled to Texas to face the Houston Dash on Saturday night. Houston scored in the 24th and 54th minutes to take a 2-0 over the Spirit. The Spirit cut the lead in half in the 75th minute, but it would be too little, too late for Washington as they began their four game road trip with a 2-1 loss to Houston.

While the Spirit outshot Houston, rookie goalkeeper Jane Campbell came up big for the Dash in net. Her eight-save performance was the difference maker in the hard fought match. The goalkeepers were the story of the match with Stephanie Labbé racking up six saves of her own. Both goalkeepers had huge saves in the first half to keep their teams in the game.

Houston opened the scoring in the 24th minute off of a corner kick. Canadian international Janine Beckie whipped in a cross that was flicked on net by the head of Brazilian Poliana. Poliana’s header spun hard off the wet grass and past a diving Labbé. The Dash would double their lead in the 54th minute when Andressinha fired a rocket off of a pass from Rachel Daly.

In the 75th minute, the Spirit would get one back from an unlikely goal scorer. Defender Estelle Johnson snuck a shot near post on Campbell for her first goal of the year. After making a run across the box, Havana Solaun played a ball in for Johnson who caught Campbell leaning.

Overall, the game was a disappointing one for the Spirit. In desperate need of three points, Washington looked disjointed for much of the match, struggling to string together passes. When they would get into the final third, a lackluster effort resulted in many shots going right to Campbell for fairly easy saves.

The Spirit continue their four game road trip next weekend as they travel to Providence Park to take on the Portland Thorns. Washington is 0-4-2 on the road this season while Portland is 5-1-1 at home. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.

Francisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie LabbeTori Huster

For the first time this season, the Washington Spirit entered a match on a two-game unbeaten streak. After a 1-1 draw in Chicago, the Spirit returned home to host the 4th place Portland Thorns in front of 4,319 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. A goal in the 19th minute from Francisca Ordega would be all Washington would need to pick up three points in a 1-0 victory.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kallman; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Mewis; Williams, Ordega, Solaun

Ordega would notch her team-leading fourth goal of the year on a highlight reel play. The Nigerian international picked the pocket of Thorns midfielder Allie Long just inside the Portland side of half field. After breaking past Long, Ordega then went on to twist and turn the Thorns’ backline. Washington would get on the board as Ordega rocketed a shot past the outstretched arms of Portland goalkeeper Adriana Franch.

“Franny is extremely physical, she’s very fast, and she’s done a very good job of getting in behind the line,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game. “She’s picked up her game, her movement off the ball and her ability to press in an organized fashion. She’s been rewarded with starts and minutes and goals.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
The Spirit celebrate after Ordega’s goal in the 19th minute.

This weekend’s goal was an extra special one for Ordega. On June 25, 2015, Ordega’s sister Elizabeth tragically passed away. Two years later, Ordega uses her sister’s memory to inspire her and continue to get better.

“I’m like, if I can play my best today and score, definitely I’m going to dedicate the goal to her. I have to do [well] so she can be proud of me and [I can] make myself happy,” Ordega said. “I keep dreaming of her, she motivated me a lot. The only thing that will make her happy, wherever she is, is just for me to be happy.”

The shutout marked the second in three games for the Spirit. Over the three-game span, the Spirit have scored three goals while allowing just one, a penalty kick to Chicago’s Christen Press. As the season hits the halfway mark, the defense for the Spirit has become much more solid.

“I think we did a very good job of team defending and understanding zones and lines,” Gabarra said. “It started last game in Chicago and I think it got a little bit better tonight. But it’s something that comes from playing together, the same group of players and getting an understanding defensively of each other.”

For the first time all season, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé had a very quiet game, something that she welcomed.

“That was awesome,” Labbé said. “I can’t even remember having to make a dive at all in that game so that was great.”

The victory also marked the return of midfielder Tori Huster, who had been sidelined for four games with a right quad injury. While she might not have mad it onto the stat sheet, the impact of Huster’s game was noticeable to those watching the game. The midfield was able to effectively shut down the star-studded Portland offense.

“I really wanted her back last game,” Gabarra said. “Chicago’s got one of the better midfields and Portland’s got probably one of the best midfields in the league. To have Tori’s experience and her bite and ball winning abilities in there was huge for us. I think she was probably not as sharp as she had been when she had been usually playing.”

Riding a three-game point streak, the Spirit will travel to Boston to take on the struggling Breakers. The match is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 1. Boston will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Wednesday of this week.

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageStephanie Labbe

After a week off for the first international break, the Washington Spirit were back in action on Saturday afternoon to take on the Chicago Red Stars. Francisca Ordega scored for the Spirit, but a goal from Christen Press saw the Spirit leaving Chicago with just one point after a 1-1 draw.

Ordega opened the scoring in the 42nd minute off of a well timed through ball from Cheyna Williams. The ball just sneaked around Red Stars defender Sam Johnson and Ordega was able to peel off her mark to receive the pass. After winning the foot race, Ordega tucked the ball around goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for the first goal of the game.

It looked as if the Spirit would walk away with three points on the road, but an ill-timed tackle in the box from Shelina Zadorsky resulted in a penalty kick. Christen Press, who was fouled by Zadorsky, stepped up to take the kick and beat goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the equalizer.

While Labbé gave up the goal on a penalty kick she turned in another solid performance for her squad. She recorded three saves on four shots on goal from Chicago. Her biggest save of the afternoon came in the 51st minute off of a shot from Chicago midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo.

The lineup for the Spirit was a bit different on Saturday as Mallory Pugh was out with an ankle injury sustained with the USWNT and Tori Huster remains out with a right quad injury. Defender Kassey Kallman made her return to the lineup after not being used since the Seattle match five weeks ago. Caprice Dydasco returned to the pitch for the first time following an ACL tear in the 2016 NWSL Championship match last October. She entered the match in the 61st minute and did not appear to be restricted in any manner.

Washington returns to the Maryland SoccerPlex this Saturday as they take on the fourth place Portland Thorns. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Spirit Squadron will be hosting their annual Pride Night at this match.

Cheyna WilliamsGame Day CoverageMallory PughStephanie Labbe

After three straight losses, the Washington Spirit found themselves on the winning side of things Saturday evening at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Goals from Cheyna Williams and Mallory Pugh coupled with a strong performance from goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé helped Washington get by the Houston Dash 2-0 in front of 3096 fans.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kleiner; Solaun, Dougherty Howard, Mewis; Williams, Ship, Pugh

For the second straight week, the Spirit picked up an early goal to take a 1-0 advantage. Washington took the lead in the 3rd minute after a well timed through ball from midfielder Havana Solaun found Williams for her first goal of the season.

“It just happened really quick,” Williams said. “We talked about how we just wanted to attack today, we wanted to come out explosive. Havana played a great ball and I was like shoot, all I have to do is finish it. I know it’s early but just finish on one play at a time and that’s kinda what it was like.”

Unlike the game in Kansas City the week before, the Spirit were able to hold on to the lead heading into halftime. Strong performances from all parts of the field played a big part in holding the lead. While the team made adjustments from last week to improve in this area of their game, head coach Jim Gabarra stills wants his side to do a better job at maintaining a lead.

“I thought we probably could have put the game away in the first ten or fifteen minutes but we kind of let them in it so it’s something we are going to address and kind of a little bit of a killer instinct, continue to attack and score even if you’re ahead,” Gabarra said after the game. “After you score a goal, you should have energy and you should actually try and get a second goal right away, rather than kind of relax and take a rest and a pause. It’s definitely better than it has been in the last Kansas City game and it’s also an area that we can improve upon.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Kristie Mewis and Mallory Pugh embrace after Pugh’s first professional goal.

The Spirit would double the lead in the 69th minute when Mallory Pugh scored her first professional goal. Pugh’s goal came after a well-organized passing sequence saw six different players make a pass before the 19-year-old slotted the shot through Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams’ legs. With her goal, Pugh became the youngest player to ever score in the NWSL.

“It’s cool, especially against this intense team and in this league,” Pugh said. “There’s great players and to be able to score in this league, it’s super special. In practice, we were working on those types of shots, when it comes across your body and you want to place it back where it came from. I was hoping for it to go, just curl it into the back post, but it went through her legs and went in.”

For the Spirit, the shutout was the first of the season. After giving up 13 goals in the last four games, it appeared as if a shutout would not be coming. However, the Washington backline came together with Labbé to put in the group’s best overall performance of the season.

“I’m really happy right now. Getting a shutout feels really good,” Labbé said. “As a goalkeeper and part of a backline that’s what you strive every day to get. Getting that is a big relief. Just like all year, we just keep trucking and keep working. I think defensively today we were much tighter and seemed to have better connection within the full team. I think that’s what led to that shutout.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
One of Stephanie Labbé’s eight saves in her first shutout of the year.

The league will now go on break as many national teams are participating in friendly matches during this week’s FIFA window. Labbé, midfielder Lindsey Agnew and defender Shelina Zadorsky have been called up to the Canadian National team for two matches vs. Costa Rica on June 8 and 11. Pugh has also been called up to represent her national team as the United States will travel to Scandinavia to take on Sweden and Norway on June 8 and 11, respectively.

“For me, I’m just excited to get back with that team and that environment,” Labbé said of the upcoming friendlies. “Those girls are some of my best friends and I’ve been on that team for so long. So just to get back with that group of girls and enjoy it for what it is and just kind of be present when I’m there and take it all in and then come back with the Spirit.”

Washington will return to action on June 17 when they travel to Chicago to take on the Red Stars. That match is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET and can be found on Lifetime as part of the Game of the Week series. The Spirit will then return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on June 24 as they host Allie Long and the Portland Thorns.

Jim GabarraMallory Pugh

Three weeks ago, Mallory Pugh became an official member of the Washington Spirit. In that time, she has played in two games, starting in one. A couple of unanswered question remain- How has Pugh adjusted to the league? Has she saved the Spirit from a perceived downward spiral that so many had anticipated following highly publicized personnel moves during the offseason?

Considering she did not play in any official NCAA games, it’s hard to tell how she has made the transition to the professional game. From looking at her play, especially in this past weekend’s game vs. FC Kansas City, it is apparent that Pugh does not lack confidence and is not afraid to take anyone on.

“As far as kind of adjusting, it’s a whole ‘nother level,” Pugh said after the 3-2 loss to FCKC. “The ball moves faster, girls are stronger, it’s more competitive. It’s just a whole step up.”

In her first two games as a professional, she has had to go against her national team teammate, Becky Sauerbrunn. One word to sum up that experience for Pugh?

“Weird,” Pugh said. “It’s been super weird. I’m playing against Becky when we’re playing small sided or something, but not in an actual game. It’s been weird.”

Jordan Small | Follow Your Spirit

After coming on as a substitute in her first professional match, Pugh got the start on the road vs. FCKC. She started out on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation, a spot head coach Jim Gabarra alluded to in Pugh’s introductory press conference. Pugh is one of the speediest young players in the league but the fastest way for her to get accustomed to NWSL play is to get game minutes with the Spirit.

“She’s very dangerous and she has good pace,” Gabarra said. “I think we need to give her some more time to get used to how we play and give her minutes in the game so that she can learn what the league is about but also learn about how we want to play.”

While this is the beginning of Pugh’s professional career, she is no stranger to the level of competition. Because of her national team experience, the high standards of this league are nothing new to Pugh.

“The national team you’re obviously representing your country, which is something very special,” Pugh said. “On the national team, you have high expectations as a team. For me here, I just have to keep myself at a high expectation and keep the standards high.”

Jordan Small | Follow Your Spirit

Many people have high expectations for Pugh coming into the league. One of the biggest expectations for her coming to Washington specifically is that she will somehow save this team. As a 19-year-old with no professional experience, this is a daunting task. Two weeks in, saving the Spirit is not something Pugh can check off her list, and that’s okay. She is starting to heat up now and a goal feels very likely in the next few weeks. No matter what she does on the field, there is no saving, only helping. The Spirit will need more than just a 19-year-old wonder kid to save this season. It’s important to remember that adjusting to this level of play takes time and that’s okay for Pugh and Washington.

“It’s important that we not have too high expectations for Mallory,” Gabarra said during Pugh’s introductory press conference on May 16. “This is a long process whether it’s a 19-year-old or a 30-year-old international that hasn’t played in our league. It takes almost a year of games to really feel comfortable and to figure it out. It’s important that we let Mal enjoy the process and really be free to just learn and develop and not to say she’s coming in here to lift this team up. We have to remind ourselves that she’s 19 and we try to treat her like any other player on our roster.”