Andi SullivanAshley HatchEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca QuinnRose LavelleWhitney Church

After three weeks on the road, the Washington Spirit returned home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the visiting Portland Thorns. One strike was all it took for the Thorns to take home all three points on a rainy Saturday night in Maryland.

For most of the evening, the Spirit had the better of the attack. But for the third straight game, Washington was unable to break the scoresheet and were shutout once again. In the 68th minute, Portland substitute Ellie Carpenter crashed hard to the net to finish a ball for her first ever NWSL goal, making her the youngest to ever score in the league.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Quinn, Dydasco; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Sullivan; Pugh, Hatch, Banini.

Whitney Church Shines at Center Back

In her three seasons for the Spirit, Whitney Church has struggled with the fast paced NWSL game. On Saturday night however, Church had one of her best games for the Spirit, anchoring the backline with Estelle Johnson out once again. While Church is not known for her speed, her positional awareness, ability to out jump players much taller than her, and her well weighted long balls have made her a key piece of this year’s backline.

“I saw what I expect to see from her. I’ve seen that in her for the last two to three years,” Gabarra said after the game. “She’s a tremendous defender and she always seems to be in the right place and that’s my expectation of her is to play games like that. I’m just glad she’s comfortable enough and secure enough now to be able to show everyone else.”

With Johnson out, the captain’s armband has been worn by Church. More of a quieter player in her first season, Church has stepped up and become a leader on the team. Alongside Johnson and Tori Huster, head coach Jim Gabarra considers Church to be one of the veteran leaders on the Spirit.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Whitney Church was presented the Spirit Squadron’s player of the match trophy following the game.

The Offense Goes Quiet Once Again

It has been over 350 minutes since the Spirit last scored a goal. On April 28, Francisca Ordega scored against the Chicago Red Stars in the 4th minute. Since then, the Spirit have played three full games without putting a goal up on the scoresheet. While the goalkeeping from the opposition has been good, the Spirit are just not getting it done. Washington ended up with four shots on goal, but most were right at Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.

On Saturday night, the Spirit switched up the front three to try and get a spark going offensively. Ordega was sent to the bench and Estefania Banini moved up to the front line from the midfield. Alongside Banini were Mallory Pugh and Ashley Hatch. Ordega would eventually come in off the bench for Hatch, but was unable to deliver.

The Spirit will now welcome a winless Sky Blue team to the Plex on Wednesday night. Sky Blue has allowed 12 goals in just six games played this season. If the Spirit are going to break this goalless drought, it needs to come Wednesday night.

“I think we are getting the opportunities, we just need to put them away,” midfielder Andi Sullivan said. “We have great opportunities to break through and we just have got to have that final touch. I think it takes like 10 shots to make a goal so the floodgates are going to open soon, I’m sure.”

A Possible Rose Lavelle Return

According to head coach Jim Gabarra, midfielder Rose Lavelle could be available for Wednesday’s game against Sky Blue.

“We’re hopeful that Wednesday she’s available for selection.”

Lavelle, who has been out with a hamstring injury since August 2, was acquired in the dispersal draft from the Boston Breakers. If Lavelle is available on Wednesday, expect her to play very limited minutes off the bench. This isn’t the first time this season that Lavelle has been deemed almost ready to play so it will most likely be something that isn’t actually confirmed until Wednesday.

Next Up

The Spirit will return to action on Wednesday night to take on Sky Blue at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. After that, the Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Sunday, May 27.

Ashley HatchAubrey BledsoeEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageRebecca Quinn

The Washington Spirit wrapped up the game road trip with a 1-0 loss to the first place North Carolina Courage on Saturday night.

In front of 5,866 fans in Cary, NC, the Spirit and the Courage played an even match for much of the evening. North Carolina eventually broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute with a goal from Abby Erceg off of a free kick. For the second straight game, the Spirit failed to score a goal.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Quinn, Dydasco; Sullivan, Huster, Banini; Pugh, Ordega, Hatch

Rebecca Quinn Starts at Center Back

Rebecca Quinn, the number three overall pick in the 2018 draft, made her first career start at center back on Saturday. In her previous appearances for Washington, she has mainly played in the midfield as the number six also known as a defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation. However, with Estelle Johnson out due to a hamstring injury, Quinn slid into the backline to play alongside of Whitney Church. With short preparation time, the two ended up holding down the line well, keeping most of the Courage opportunities out to the flanks.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Rebecca Quinn strikes the ball against North Carolina on Saturday, May 12.

Quinn has played center back before for the Canadian National Team as well as in spurts for the Duke Blue Devils. While she can play either spot, she has said previously that she prefers playing in the midfield.

“I mean obviously it’s an adjustment any time you have a new backline, it’s not like the midfield,” Quinn said. “Being in the back four, you need to be sharp as nails. Overall I think it was a solid effort, good communication throughout the back and I’m happy with the start.”

Free Kicks Cost Washington Again

In the first game against the Courage, mistakes on free kicks cost the Spirit. While Washington did a good job early on of protecting the goal and not giving up many dangerous opportunities, the fouls just kept coming in the second half. Just about 15 minutes into the second half, midfielder Havana Solaun fouled Merritt Mathias just outside the top corner of the box. Jaelene Hinkle stepped up to take the kick and whipped it across the middle of the box. Abby Erceg broke free from Ashley Hatch and was able to head home the ball.

“I thought we performed well, it’s just one set piece,” goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe said. “Abby Erceg broke free and that’s what they do, they finish their chances. So it was a good go for us, getting better every game. Last time we played them it was 4-2 and today their defense was a lot more organized.”

The Courage are known for their free kicks. North Carolina has the height and skill that makes it very hard for teams to defend against. For Bledsoe, the Spirit need to work on one major thing moving forward on free kicks.

“It just comes down to discipline honestly. It’s not really a matter of talent or practicing them. It’s staying locked in,” Bledsoe said. “You’re responsible, you’re reliable for your mark so organization early, getting back in, know your responsibility and just performing. It’s discipline and focus and we did well up until that one.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Aubrey Bledsoe during the match vs. North Carolina on May 12.

Next Up

It’s back to the nation’s capital for the Washington Spirit as they take on the Portland Thorns. The match, which will be at the Maryland SoccerPlex, will take place on Saturday, May 19 at 7:00 p.m. It will be the Thorns only trip to the Plex as the next time these two teams meet it will be at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

Andi SullivanAshley HatchAubrey BledsoeCaprice DydascoFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageMallory PughMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca Quinn

On the second road trip of the season, the Washington Spirit picked up their first road point with a 1-1 draw at the Portland Thorns.

The scoring happened all in the first half, but most of the opportunities came in the second. Francisca Ordega opened the scoring on a scrapy play in front in the 37th minute. In added time of the first half, Caprice Dydasco fouled Ifeoma Onumonu in the box. Thorns forward Christine Sinclair would convert the penalty to tie it up at one. The Thorns had a chance to win it in the 87th minute, but Lindsey Horan would have her penalty kick saved by Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to keep it tied.

Aubrey Bledsoe Comes Up Big

Late in the game, with the Thorns on the attack, Aubrey Bledsoe was forced to come up with a big save after a potentially costly mistake. A ball was played into the box from deep and it was a race between Bledsoe and Thorns defender Emily Sonnett for the ball. Sonnett got there before Bledsoe, and the goalkeeper would then foul Sonnett.

After the nasty tackle, Bledsoe had to step up and try to save a penalty to keep her team tied. Lindsey Horan would step up, backup, restart her run, and eventually have her kick saved by Bledsoe. It was her second career penalty kick save.

Ordega Wreaks Havoc

Francisca Ordega opened the scoring in the 37th minute, her second on the season. Tori Huster’s corner was poorly cleared and it bounced to the center of the six yard box. Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom was unable to grab it and a scramble in the box lead to Ordega poking it through.

Ordega had multiple other chances and was difficult to slow down when she was running at the backline. WIth the Thorns playing only three in the back, the front line of Ordega, Mallory Pugh, and Ashley Hatch were able to get it going for much of the first half. The second half was not as strong, but the trio is really starting to come together.

Tori Huster Returns to the Starting XI

Spirit midfielder Tori Huster returned to the starting XI on Friday night. Huster, alongside of Andi Sullivan and Meggie Dougherty Howard, held down their area well against four midfielders for the Thorns. This greatly helped the defense of the Spirit, who, alongside of Aubrey Bledsoe, had a fairly quiet evening. If Rebecca Quinn remains injured, the Spirit will most likely stick with this trio.

Next Up

Washington will return home next weekend to take on the Chicago Red Stars. The match is scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m. on April 28.

Ashley HatchAubrey BledsoeGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna LohmanMallory Pugh

After nine months of waiting, Washington Spirit fans finally saw their team win at the Maryland SoccerPlex. In the home opener, the Spirit (1-1-0) took down the visiting Orlando Pride (0-1-1) 2-0.

It was all even at zero before Mallory Pugh broke the scoring in the 80th minute. Just eight minutes later, Ashley Hatch sealed the victory with her first goal as a member of the Washington Spirit. Aubrey Bledsoe picked up her first win and shutout in her Spirit home debut.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Rebecca Quinn, Andi Sullivan, Havana Solaun; Francisca Ordega, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh

Defense Stands Strong

With Rebecca Quinn getting her visa issues worked out, it appeared as if she would slide into the backline to replace Whitney Church. Instead, head coach Jim Gabarra put her in the midfield, leaving the backline intact from last weekend.

After struggling to contain Megan Rapinoe and the offense of the Seattle Reign in the opener, Washington did a much better job this week of sealing those holes and not allowing much through. This led to goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe making four stops in route to a clean sheet.

“Well, I was really happy with the whole backline and the whole group in its entirety,” Gabarra said. “I think they grew into the game and they got better and started forging some of those relationships. Most importantly I think we weren’t giving up a tremendous number of chances so that’s always pleasing.”

Spirit Offense Steps Up Late

In the 80th minute, Mallory Pugh burst past the backline of Orlando before slotting the ball home through the legs of Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Just eight minutes later, Ashley Hatch scored her first goal for the Spirit. Both ended up being huge goals in picking up three points for the Spirit.

The Spirit racked up three shots on goal, all coming in the second half. The first half was full of opportunities, but the final pass was just off in most situations. That all changed when Pugh picked up the ball just over half field. She outran Krieger, twisted Shelina Zadorsky around, and ended up beating Harris with a low ground ball. Hatch’s goal was a combination of a lot of hard work from Mallory Eubanks, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Pugh. That now is three goals in two games for Washington.

“I think I just saw that I had time and space,” Pugh said. “Estelle always says to shoot the ball. So yeah, I just took my opportunity. I wanted to keep it low and thankful it went in.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Mallory Pugh celebrates with her teammates after scoring the game-winning goal.

“You know, Jo just kind of laid it off perfectly,” Hatch said. “I saw an open goal so I just tried to hit it as hard as I can so it went in.”

Tori Huster Honored in Pre-Game

Prior to the game, midfielder Tori Huster was honored with a commemorative jersey for reaching the 100 caps mark. The jersey was presented to Huster by Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch. Huster reached the milestone game against the Seattle Reign last weekend. She is the only remaining player on the roster from the inaugural season of the Spirit.

Next Up

The NWSL will now go on a break with a FIFA break approaching. The United States National Team will be in action on Thursday, April 5 and Sunday, April 8 when they take on Mexico.

Following the completion of the FIFA break, the Spirit will return home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the North Carolina Courage. The Spirit will host the Courage on April 14 with kickoff coming at 7 p.m.

Arielle ShipAshley HatchCali FarquharsonCheyna WilliamsFrancisca OrdegaMallory PughPosition Previews

With the 2018 season beginning on Saturday, Follow Your Spirit brings you a break down of each position group on the Washington Spirit. Finally, the forwards.

The Group

#17 – Cali Farquharson

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

#33 – Ashley Hatch

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona

#14 – Francisca Ordega

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Gboko, Nigeria

#11 – Mallory Pugh

  • Age: 19
  • Hometown: Highlands Ranch, Colorado

#2 – Arielle Ship

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Westlake Village, California

#88 – Tiffany Weimer

  • Age: 33
  • Hometown: Bridgeport, Connecticut

Expectations

This will be a very interesting year for the Washington Spirit forward corps. After a down year offensively, the Spirit will need more production out of the forwards for the playoffs to be an option. Much like the midfielders, the personnel on the field will greatly depend on what formation is being played.

It is believed that Washington will begin the season playing in a 4-3-3. With that being said, it is most likely going to be Ashley Hatch, midfielder/forward Estefania Banini, and Mallory Pugh on the front line. Hatch gives the Spirit some height up front while Banini and Pugh bring the distribution and goal scoring abilities to the table. Much like in the preseason finale, Francisca Ordega will most likely be the go-to forward coming off the bench for head coach Jim Gabarra.

This lineup will also depend on national team camps. US head coach Jill Ellis has called up Hatch and Pugh for two April friendlies against Mexico. Arielle Ship will start the season on the 45-day disabled list and Cheyna Williams will take the year off because of maternity leave.

Player to Watch

In mid-January, the Spirit acquired Hatch from North Carolina. During the offseason, Hatch spent time with Melbourne City FC of the Australian W-League. Her team ended up winning the W-League title before she returned to the U.S. for preseason with Washington.

“My time in Australia was great,” Hatch said. “It was good to get more games in, more minutes and more touches on the ball just to stay fit and get more game experience. It was good to just progressing and hopefully, that will roll over into the season.”

In 2017, Hatch won the NWSL Rookie of the Year crown. She won the award after tying a league record for most goals by a rookie (7),

“Last year was a great season, I learned a lot but I still feel like there’s a lot more to learn and to improve as a player,” Hatch said. “It’s only my second year as a professional so I’m excited to come here, play with the Spirit, and hopefully help them improve from last season.

Next Up

Washington will open up against the Seattle Reign on Saturday, March 24. Go90.com will have a stream of the game with kickoff coming at 10 p.m. ET.

Alyssa KleinerAndi SullivanArielle ShipAshley HatchAubrey BledsoeBriana ScurryCheyna WilliamsDiDi HaracicEstelle JohnsonHavana SolaunJim GabarraJoanna LohmanJordan SmallKelsey WysMallory PughPodcastPreaseasonRebecca QuinnRose LavelleSchuyler DeBreeShelina ZadorskySpirit SquadronStephanie LabbeTaylor SmithTori HusterWhitney Church

Joanna Lohman smiles at ref

Jordan Small and Timothy Lawson connect after four weeks since the last podcast. The two hosts cover every bit of news that has released in February, plus a couple announcements for Follow Your Spirit. Enjoy!

Jordan: @Jols98

Tim: @TimLawson21

Follow Your Spirit: @SpiritCoverage