Ali KriegerCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnGame Day Coverage

More than two months after the original game was set to be played, the Houston Dash and Washington Spirit faced off on Thursday night for the second time this season. Two goals courtesy of Christine Nairn helped the Spirit walk away with the 2-1 victory and sole possession of first place in the NWSL.

Nairn would open the scoring in the 30th minute on a penalty kick for her first goal of the 2016 season. The penalty kick was awarded after Houston defender Cari Roccaro took down Spirit forward Cheyna Williams in the box. Nairn returned to the field to take the kick after being briefly sidelined due to an injury. The injury to Nairn’s shoulder occurred just minutes earlier when she was tangled up with Dash defender Ellie Brush. Although appearing to favor the shoulder, the injury did not prevent Nairn from completing the match.

Early in the second half, Nairn would double the lead, and her season goal total, in the 63rd minute. The midfielder picked up a ball near the center circle and quickly hit a chip shot over Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger, who was caught off her line.

In the 90th minute, Houston captain Kealia Ohai put home a cross from Stephanie Ochs, dashing the Spirit’s hope of walking away with its eighth shutout of the season. The goal would come too late for the Dash as they fell for the eighth time this season.

The Spirit buoyed by the return of captain Ali Krieger. Despite arriving from the Rio Olympics just days prior, Krieger was in the starting XI for the Spirit on Thursday night. Crystal Dunn was not available for the match, while the Canadian internationals, goalkeeper Steph Labbé, defender Shelina Zadorsky and midfielder Diana Matheson, will return from the Rio Olympics with the bronze medal. On another roster note, Megan Oyster ended her 34 games played streak. Oyster had started, in every game since being drafted in 2015.

The next match for the Spirit will be on Friday, August 26th, 2016 in Orlando. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. This game will be the second meeting between the two clubs, with the Spirit being victorious in the previous meeting. The Spirit will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 to face the WNY Flash in the second-to-last home game of the season.

photo by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna Lohman

All that stood between the Spirit and the Olympic break was a re-match with Sky Blue on Saturday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Mother Nature had other plans however, with a severe thunderstorm rolling into Maryland on Saturday evening around game time. The storm was too much to handle, forcing the game to be rescheduled for Sunday morning. In the final installment of the four game series, the Spirit grabbed the 3-1 win behind goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Cheyna Williams and defender Alyssa Kleiner.

Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams
Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams

Banini’s goal, her fifth of the year, gave the Spirit an early 1-0 lead in the 29th minute. The Argentinian received a pass from Joanna Lohman at the top of the box and blasted a shot past Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey. Just six minutes later, Sky Blue forward Tasha Kai was on the receiving end of a fortunate bounce and beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to even the score.

i-XrzjbGJ-X2Williams would assure the Spirit went into the locker room with the 2-1 lead. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams would collect, split two Sky Blue defenders and tuck home a shot past Casey. The goal was Williams’ first professional goal.

“It felt really good and when my team embraced me, that was the best part,” Williams said. “I think we responded well. We know that they capitalize on their opportunities and we wanted to make sure we switched on at all times. So I feel like the goal was a wakeup call for us and I think we responded really well.”

i-hXtWK3K-X2This was the first time the Spirit scored two goals in the first half since June 18, 2016 against Orlando. After calling last week’s first half “atrocious”, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra felt this week’s was the best half his team had played all season.

“I think it was probably our best half of the season, at least as far as playing the way we want to play in setting our press,” Gabarra said. “Outside of not scoring the chances we created on corner kicks and other chances where we felt like we could have been up 3-0 before we scored our first goal. I thought it was much better, the energy was good. We were playing the way we’ve asked them to play.”

Williams would not be the only player to score her first professional goal. After Kleiner was subbed on in the 89th minute, it didn’t take long for her presence to be felt. Just moments into extra time, Kleiner collected the ball at the top of the 18 yard box and crushed a shot with her left foot into the back of the net to secure the victory for the Spirit.

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The NWSL will now go on break for the Olympic games. The first game back will be on August 18, 2016 in Houston between the Spirit and the Dash. This game is a makeup game from May 27, 2016. Kickoff for the matchup is 7 p.m. in Houston (8 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Cheyna Williams

Cheyna Williams

This week’s podcast features our own Jordan Small and Spirit forward Cheyna Williams.

In the first segment, Jordan breaks down what she saw this past week in New Jersey and what she hopes to see from the Spirit at the Plex on July 30th.

The second segment is the feature interview with Cheyna Williams. Cheyna talks to us about how she got into soccer, how she’s adapting into the league, and how she’s improving as a player.

Also, find out which player is most likely to have a body buried in their back yard, who is most likely to be a secret agent, and who may miss practice due to a Netflix binge.

Take a listen and let us know what you think using #FollowYourSpirit.

@CheynaLee20 (Guest)

@jols98 (Guest)

@SpiritCoverage (Official Account)

@TimLawson21 (Host)

Cheyna Williams
Photo by Kelley Piper
Cheyna WilliamsGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna Lohman

Coming off an away win in Kansas City, the Spirit hit the road for the second week as they traveled to New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC. The Saturday night matchup was the third of four meetings for the two clubs. Sky Blue would take all three points thanks to a goal in the 24th minute from Leah Galton. The goal would be the only one of the game for either side as Sky Blue picked up the 1-0 win.

“Credit to Sky Blue, they’re always going to battle,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said. “They were very organized, they sat really deep and we kind of just played into their hands.”

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Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Huster, Lohman, Nairn ©; Banini, Ordega, Williams

Early on, the Spirit struggled to find its way around the game. After a few defensive mistakes went unpunished, Sky Blue eventually would capitalize. Galton picked up a pass from around 35 yards out and drove down the sideline. The Spirit defense failed to pick up the streaking Galton, who would go on to roof the shot past Kelsey Wys.

“That’s a great individual effort by a dangerous player and that’s where their attacks would come from,” Gabarra said, “but you can’t single out one player, it was our whole team. We were just passive and disorganized and not the team we’ve been up to this point.”

The second half was a better showing from the Spirit, but nothing would come of it. The best chance for the Spirit would come in the 59th minute when forward Cheyna Williams put a shot off of the post. The rebound bounced out to Joanna Lohman, but the midfielder could not find the back of the net.

“I think from the fortieth minute on, I kind of saw the team that I’m used to seeing,” Gabarra said. “Unfortunate not to get a goal and get back in the game, but the first forty minutes were atrocious.”

Next Saturday, the two teams will face off once again, this time back at the Maryland SoccerPlex. This will be the final installment of the four part series. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. This will be the final game for both sides before the league takes an 18-day break for the Olympics.

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

 

Cheyna WilliamsCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJoanna LohmanKatie Stengel

With less than 12 hours before Spirit’s home opener, you can feel an excitement in the air.

There are few things to be looking out for in this game:

How the defense handles Crystal Dunn (if they can)

At the start of last season, Crystal Dunn had zero goals. She exploded through the season and scored 15 for her club. Teams couldn’t keep up with her until Seattle kept her in check. With a full season of video and an off-season to prepare, can teams properly mark Dunn? Boston probably won’t be the best measure for the rest of the league, but it’ll still be interesting to watch.

Who will begin the scoring?

It’s pretty clear Coach Gabarra wants to score all the goals. His off-season pick ups, drafts, and offensive scheme all suggest he’s ready to attack. Who will get the first goal for the Spirit squad? I believe Boston’s attempt to stop Dunn could mean complacency elsewhere, leading to a goal from Katie Stengel or rookie Cheyna Williams.

Can Washington keep a clean sheet?

Washington conceded the most goals of all the playoff teams last year. It’s clear the squad is aiming to host a playoff match, which means getting 3 points more often than just 1. The Spirit attack is potent, but can the defense put up a wall and start the season with 3 points?

Joanna Lohman’s hair

It’s the first design of the season for Joanna Lohman’s fan favorite hair styles. She gave us a preview of it yesterday via Instagram:

 

I’m predicting a 2-0 win for the Washington Spirit at home. Game starts at 7:00pm and can be streamed via YouTube:

Cheyna WilliamsJim Gabarra

The 2016 NWSL draft was the first sports draft – minus my fantasy league – that I’ve ever attended live. As a bonus, I was granted media credentials to provide coverage through Follow Your Spirit. I asked some friends what sort of material they’d like to see come from a draft day. They wanted insight on the experience of attending.

Live tweeting, player analysis, and pick-by-pick updates can be done from home while watching the live feed. The draft day experience is one that can only be told by someone who is there. So, as a first-timer to the event, I decided to give you a look into what draft day is like.

6:40 – I’m up. I’m excited. I tweet.

6:53 – I’m unsure what to wear. Do I look professional? Is a dress shirt too much for a sports draft (especially for media). I decide on jeans with a nice shirt and nicer shoes. Dressed up jeans is always the way to go in these situations.

7:32 – I’m out the door to start my trek to Baltimore.

8:00 – It is announced that the Portland Thorns acquire Nadim from Sky Blue. Twitter has a mixed reaction, but most feel sorry for Sky Blue. Sort of like that friend you hear got tricked into doing something they didn’t want to do. It’s not necessarily bad for them, but it clearly isn’t necessary.

8:17 – I head for my MARC train – the 8:20 Penn Line – and am stopped and told it is on a different track. This has happened to me before, resulting in boarding 3 trains that never ended up leaving the station. I’m slightly worried.

8:19 – I board the train on track 7, like I’m instructed, and patiently wait.

8:23 – The 8:20am departure finally takes place. We are on our way to Baltimore.

8:50 – I realize I forgot my phone charger. Now I get to be that guy trying to not use his phone while clearly needing to use his phone all day.

9:00 – I now realize I didn’t bring a lanyard. Is that required? Will my credentials already be on a lanyard provided by the NWSL? I now assume this will be indicator #1 that I’m a total “newb.”

9:25 – My train arrives at Penn Station in Baltimore. My phone tells me that if I walk, I’ll be there just before 10. I decide to call an Uber so I have more time to find where I belong.

9:26 – I accidently choose “Home” as a destination and freak out in fear that the Uber driver will cancel because he thinks I want an Uber ride back to DC.

9:27 – Destination fixed. Driver doesn’t cancel. I’m on my way.

9:40 – I arrive and hunt down the table for my media credentials. It is already on a lanyard. My novice is protected.

9:42 – I wander into the media section. There are four rows of tables, most of the seats have a name placard on them. I walk through the aisles looking the name plates trying to find my name. I can’t find it. I’m an outsider and they know it. I assume my seat is in the curtained-off room next door.

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9:44 – A gentleman with a “ask me” button looks at his hand-written table assignment list. I’m not on it. He apologizes and ushers me to the last row of tables and thanks me for my understanding.

9:45 – I want everyone to take me seriously but also need someone to hold my hand. I have no idea what I’m doing.

9:50 – After setting up my equipment – ATR2100 microphone and Surface Pro 4 – I realize I need coffee. I head downstairs to the Starbucks but the line is much longer than I’d want it to be.

9:52 – Out of curiosity, I walk around a separate area labeled “Media work room.” There is a table with box lunches, water, and soda. I put some ice in a cup and grab a Dr. Pepper. I don’t really even like soda but I don’t want to be that chump getting my own coffee when there is free soda available.

9:54 – I ask the friendly usher if there is a Wi-Fi connection to connect to or if I should hot spot. He’s not sure and is determined to find out for me.

9:58 – The usher returns and provides me the password I need.

10:02 – Guy to my left comments that “this has really come a long way from last year.” I nod in agreement.

10:04 – Announcement made that the draft will begin in 5 minutes.

10:15 – Things get underway. VP of NWSL welcomes media. I want to jump up and cheer “That’s me!”

10:16 – Commissioner announces the Portland Thorns are on the clock.

10:22 – Portland Thorns pick Emily Sonnett. We all knew this was happening. A video of her response is shown on the big screen.

10:23 – I look around and see most media personnel scrolling through social media or chatting. I’m wondering if I’m an odd ball that’s actually trying to work or if they’re so good at what they do that they barely work while they’re here. Neither would surprise me.

10:27 – Sky Blue chooses Rodriguez. I don’t know if I want to ask her questions but realize I have no idea where the media scrum. My inexperience is beginning to fill me. I should figure this out before the Spirit make their pick.

10:35 – Found the NWSL photo background in the media section. People are gathered around it so I assume this is where it happens. Photographers take pictures of Rodriguez with her coach and new Sky Blue scarf. Not sure if this is where I can interview or if this is just for photos.

10:43 – I head back to my seat and begin eating the gummy snacks I packed like an adult.

10:46 – The girl next to me is writing down the picks as they happen. I wonder if she’s heard of the Internet.

10:50 – Spirit are on the clock! Spirit Squadron begin chanting.

10:55 – Washington Spirit pick… a time out! They exercise a time out to extend their pick by five minutes. I think Jim Gabarra just wants to hear the squadron cheer some more.

10:59 – Squadron count down from ten, letting their team know it is time to announce their pick.

11:00 – Washington Spirit select Cheyna Williams. Finishes her speech with “Go Spirit.”

11:12 – Grab Surface and mic. I feel like this will either be brilliant and professional since I’ll have an actual mic or I’ll be the doofus carrying his Surface everywhere.

11:14 – Someone asks me a question. I feel valued knowing people trust me with questions like “what did they just say?”

11:20 – Cheyna gets her picture taken in the media area with her team’s scarf and with Coach Gabarra. I take a short video of it, tweet it, and it gets retweeted a hundred times. The fans are clearly excited.

11:30 –  I realize I really need to interview Cheyna since she may be the only Spirit draft pick in the building. I ask the friendly usher how I can speak with her (she’s returned to her seat in the crowd. He tells me “no problem” and goes and gets her for me. Apparently I have powers beyond my understanding.

11:35 – I get an interview with Cheyna. It is AWESOME. Unfortunately, during some scuffling around to hear the second round Washington pick, my software shut off. I’m so disappointed!

12: 09 – The Chicago Red Stars are on the clock. At the time, for some reason, I thought this was their only pick of the draft. I begin imagining Coach Dames walking up to the podium himself, grabbing the mic, announcing his pick, and declaring “Red Stars OUT” and then dropping the mic in dramatic fashion as he walks out of the draft room.

12:12 – Coach Dames turns in his pick on a card just like everyone else. I’m disappointed.

12: 13 – Washington Spirit are on the clock for the third time. Spirit Squadron begin chanting “Cheyna is going to score a goal on you” in honor of their new forward Cheyna Williams.

12:20 – Third round starts. The Spirit do not have a pick in the third round. I decide to eat lunch.

12:32 – Red Stars are on the clock again. Clearly I was mistaken about them only having one pick. Makes sense why it wasn’t in dramatic fashion.

12:39 – I realize there isn’t much more for me to be doing, so I begin writing my piece in response to Cheyna William’s draft.

1:13 – I overhear a guy say “What do I know? I’m just a photographer.” I’m tempted to challenge this but am too into my work to bother.

1:25 – Final round starts. Washington Spirit have two picks, so I’m far more interested.

1:30 – I need a sound bite for the podcast. I manage to talk with Cheyna again and get a decent, short interview out of her. It’s not as great as the first one, but it’ll do.

1: 35 – I inquire about coaches and GMs being available for questioning. I’m told the commissioner will also be available.

2:00 – The draft is over

2:15 – Coach Gabarra makes his way into the media area and is kind enough to chat with me. We talk about the time out taken in the first round, drafting Cheyna and Cali, and depth on the back line.

2:18 – I’m told the commissioner will be brought over soon. The guy updating me on all this happens to be the media guy for the NWSL and is being super nice. I wonder if he knows I’m possibly the least experienced reporter at the draft.

2:20 – Media session with Commissioner Jeff Plush begins. I record several minutes of it but realize the content doesn’t really fit my outlet’s niche (Spirit stuff). I stop recording and head back to my work area.

2:30 – It’s time to head back to D.C. and publish a podcast.

For more coverage on my draft day experience and to hear my interviews with Cheyna Williams, Coach Gabarra, and Commissioner Plush, listen to the podcast: