Ali KriegerChristine NairnMegan Oyster

Ali Krieger, Oyster, Nairn traded

Washington Spirit fans have had a lot to deal with this offseason. It started with Ali Krieger being traded for pennies on the dollar. Then Christine Nairn and Megan Oyster were shipped off for more reasonable returns.

With each trade, the Follow Your Spirit team talked about the outcomes and the implications, hoping to glean some perspective and hope.

We welcome our new Spirit players with open arms, but we’re definitely sad to see our beloved Ali, Nairn, and Oyster go. Check out the three episodes we did covering these trades:

Ali Krieger (originally aired Nov 4)

Christine Nairn (originally aired Nov Nov 15)

Megan Oyster (originally aired Nov 23)

Feature photo credit: Kelley Piper Photos

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerCaprice DydascoChristine NairnCrystal DunnDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey WysTori Huster

The curse of DC sports teams continued Sunday evening as the Washington Spirit fell to the Western New York Flash on penalty kicks in the NWSL Championship game in Houston, Texas.

For the third time this season, the Spirit and Flash were set to clash, this time for the league crown. Both teams scored early in the first half, but no additional goals in regulation sent the game to extra time. A goal from Crystal Dunn just a minute into extra time looked like a sure winner. WNY would not go down without a fight however, and scored the equalizer in the fourth minute of added time in the second half of extra time. In penalty kicks, Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo stopped three of the Spirit’s five penalty kicks to lead the Flash to its first ever NWSL Championship.

All started well for the Spirit when defender Megan Oyster played a ball into the box just nine minutes into the match. D’Angelo came out to try and collect the ball, but missed allowing the ball to fall to Dunn. Dunn rounded the goalkeeper and deposited the ball into the net to open the scoring for the Spirit. The Flash would respond in the 14th minute with a goal from the top of the box from midfielder Samantha Mewis.

The Spirit were forced to make an early sub as defender Alyssa Kleiner replaced defender Caprice Dydasco. Dydasco went down in the 22nd minute with what is being listed as a left knee injury. With only three subs for the game, the move put the Spirit in a pinch. Kleiner came into the match and immediately made an impact, gaining praise from head coach Jim Gabarra during the post game press conference.

“Having to sub a flank player early on was not something we anticipated,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner did a great job in there on the flank, that’s why she’s here. It really tied our hands, especially looking at without a lead going into overtime and possibly facing penalties, Stengel is one of our top five for penalties.”

Just one minute into extra time, Dunn would grab her second goal of the game, putting the Spirit up 2-1. The Spirit had the championship trophy in its grasp with under a minute remaining in the match. In the fourth minute of added time in extra time, Flash forward and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams got on the end of a cross from Jessica McDonald. Williams out jumped two Spirit defenders to head the ball over Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

“I think as competitors, we always know the game situation, we’re up a goal, we’re down a goal, roughly how much time is left,” midfielder Christine Nairn said. “In that last play, I just remember it coming off of I think Jess McDonald’s foot and I jumped for all it was worth and there was a collision between me, Lynn Williams and Kleiner. Then the crowd went wild, so it happened all so fast.”

Headed to penalties, WNY seemed to have all of the momentum. Wys was able to stop one Flash attempt and force McDonald to hit one well over the crossbar. D’Angelo was equal to the task, stopping shots from the three original Spirit players in Ali Krieger, Tori Huster and Diana Matheson. The Flash would eventually win 3-2 (3-2 on PKs), securing its first ever NWSL Championship.

“We had been good at penalties and our two best penalty kick takers, they get saved,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kelsey was a little bit unfortunate not to get one, I mean two she gets her hand on. It’s a funny game, it’s a brutal way to decide games. It’s not a loss in my opinion, they advanced on penalties.”

Despite the game being in Houston, a large contingent of Spirit supporters, including members of the Spirit Squadron, made the trip down to cheer on their team, bringing energy to BBVA Compass Stadium.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without the Spirit Squadron,” Nairn said. “They surprised us by being out in that corner, and we hear that drum, them screaming. We walked over there and our hearts break just as much as theirs. They’re just as much a part of this team as we are. Like I said, we are here because of them. Thanks for them and everything they do. They do more for us than they know.”

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Christine NairnCrystal DunnFrancisca OrdegaGame PreviewNWSL PlayoffsWhitney Church

The 2016 NWSL Championship is finally here. After many months of games and practices, it all comes down to just one game. The Washington Spirit will play the Western New York Flash on Sunday in Houston, Texas. In the two previous meetings this season, the Spirit beat the Flash 3-0 and tied 1-1.

After beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in the semifinals, the Spirit will look to hoist its first trophy in franchise history. Here are three things to look for on Sunday afternoon when the Spirit hit the pitch for the final.

1) Which back five will head coach Jim Gabarra “pull out of his hat” this week?

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Gabarra has put together many different lineups this season, rotating his backline from week to week. Last week, the back five was comprised of Kelsey Wys in goal, Ali Krieger at right back, Whitney Church and Shelina Zadorsky as the center backs and Caprice Dydasco at left back. With Wys getting the nod even when Stephanie Labbé returned from the Rio Olympics, it would be surprising if she wasn’t the one between the pipes tomorrow afternoon. Another spot where change be surprising would be the outside backs. Dydasco and Krieger have both shown that they can work up and down the field, contributing to the offense while still fulfilling their defensive responsibilities. The real question will be who Gabarra pulls out of his hat to start in the middle of the defense. It appears Megan Oyster has fallen out of Gabarra’s starting projections. With Church, Estelle Johnson, and Zadorsky getting most of the minutes over the past few weeks, the starters will most likely come from these three. Zadorsky and Johnson seem like the most logical combination because of the height and speed of the Flash offense.

While it is still unclear who will be in the starting lineup come Sunday, the defense remains confident and prepared for the potent Flash offense.

“We’ve seen them before, so we kind of have an idea of what they can bring and what they can do,” Church said. “I think the coaching staff has done a really good job at preparing us for that, and as long as we stick to our game plan and have each other’s backs, I think we’ll go really far in this game and we’ll have a really great shot.”

2) Who will step up and score for the Spirit this week?

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Eleven different Spirit players have scored this season, including forward Estefania Banini, who leads the team with five goals. While the defense has rotated, the forward line has changed even more. The same combination of forwards has not played together more than three games in a row this year. This has proven helpful for the forwards, as no one player has too much pressure placed upon them.

“For me, it’s great because teams don’t really know who to mark, who’s dangerous or what our capabilities are and I think that it’s gotten us to the point that we are in now,” forward Crystal Dunn said.

When facing such a high powered offense as the Flash , the Spirit has to be able to score multiple goals to keep up with WNY. Washington is ready for the challenge though, as everyone feels they are able to score. Ten of the Spirit’s 32 goals this season have come from midfielders or defenders, illustrating the team’s scoring depth.

“Everyone, everyone, I mean everyone, including the defenders, everyone is capable of scoring,” Francisca Ordega said. “It’s not just the forwards, anyone is capable of scoring. We are not relying on anybody, come Sunday, anyone can score. Hopefully we can score more goals come Sunday. Anybody can score, it might be our goalkeeper, she might score.”

3) The battle of the midfield will determine the outcome of the game.

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While much of the talk is on the Flash offense vs. the Spirit defense, one area of the game that is overlooked is the midfield battle. The trio of Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman and Christine Nairn is one of the top midfields in the league. They will be tested on Sunday as they go up against a gritty Flash midfield. If the Spirit can play through its midfield like it did against Red Stars in the semifinals, the Spirit improve its chances of winning the game.

“I think that we know our strengths and weaknesses and what we can do to be the best as a team,” Nairn said. “I think we are going to stick to our game plan in the midfield, as well as respect players like McCall Zerboni is the first one to come to mind, she’s a battler. But Jo Lohman is also a battler. So I think we match up well with their team. At the end of the day, it’s who is going to put their body on the line and who is going to perform to the best of their abilities.”

Kickoff for the NWSL Championship game will be 4 p.m. (5 p.m. on the east coast). The match will be broadcasted live on Fox Sports 1.

Ali KriegerChristine NairnDiana MathesonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageKelsey WysShelina Zadorsky

For the first time in franchise history, the Washington Spirit will be playing for the NWSL championship.

The Spirit beat the visiting Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in overtime in front of 4,249 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday night. A goal from defender Ali Krieger opened the scoring for the Spirit, and with just under 10 minutes remaining in the overtime period, forward Francisca Ordega sealed the deal for Washington.

“We’ve wanted this for the past four seasons, and I think we deserved it all season,” Krieger said. “We’ve played so great. Obviously it was a team win, towards the end you could see that with the goals we scored, it was involving the entire team.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn

Washington controlled the play from the start, but as halftime drew closer, had nothing to show for it. A corner kick from Krieger was played away by Red Stars defender Julie Johnston, but the ball was played right to Spirit defender Shelina Zadorsky. Zadorsky played a ball back into the box with her left foot, finding Krieger’s head at the back post for the goal in the 36th minute.

“I saw time and space and I knew we had a lot of runners in the box,” Zadorsky said. “I had thought maybe swing it in with my right foot, but I’m a little more confident with my left, so I took a touch back and tried to curl it into a dangerous space. Then all the credit to Ali for an incredible goal.”

Chicago would get a goal back in the 80th minute to tie the game up. Defender Casey Short played a ball over the Spirit backline and right onto the foot of on running forward Christen Press. The drama continued in stoppage time as Press beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, but hit the crossbar, sending the game into extra time.

“I was just hoping that my teammates, my center backs and everyone else were covering for me as they should,” Wys said. “I did what I could to put her off and then the soccer gods were with us, that was what I was thinking as soon as that hit the post. I was like they are with us tonight.”

Both teams traded chances in the opening half of extra time, but it wouldn’t be until the 111th minute that either team was able to break through. Combination play between midfielders Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson set up the Spirit in the box. Nairn sent the ball across the face of goal to a streaking Ordega at the back post. Ordega was able to just get a piece of it, directing it past Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

“I think I was just right there at the right time because when I saw how good the ball was like, ok let me just go in case the ball bounce back,” Ordega said. “I wasn’t expecting the ball at that spot, but it came out to be a successful goal.”

Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.
Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.

In its first ever home playoff game, the Spirit qualified to play in its first NWSL Final. After finishing in last place in year one, four years later, the Spirit will play either the Portland Thorns or WNY Flash for the league crown.

“It’s super rewarding because I remember that first season where we didn’t have the best opportunities and maybe we didn’t have the best season at all,” Krieger said. “Working off of that, building a team, building this core group that we’ve had, it’s a really incredible feeling to come that far and to see this team grow into what it is now. I’m just really proud of where we’ve come and now where we are headed. This game’s over now, we have to focus on the final.”

The Spirit will find out on Sunday which team it will face in the Final. The NWSL Championship will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. ET.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Cali FarquharsonCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Wednesday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Seattle Reign had it all. Between numerous weather delays, a pre game controversy, two penalty kicks, three goals,  and a chance to clinch home field advantage for the semi finals, the Maryland SoccerPlex was a busy place to be for a midweek clash in the NWSL.

Foul weather moved into the area just prior to kickoff which pushed kickoff back nearly one hour. The delay sent the teams back into the locker room, while the national anthem was played in the stadium. The move was one done intentionally by the Spirit organization, specifically owner Bill Lynch, in response to recent protests during the national anthem by athletes, Megan Rapinoe in particular.

“We respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal – albeit worthy – cause,” the Spirit said in a statement prior to Wednesday’s kickoff.

Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson

While much of the attention surrounding the game went to the incident with the anthem, overlooked was the fact that with the 2-1 win over the Reign, the Spirit clinched the first home playoff game for the franchise. A penalty kick from midfielder Kim Little made the game close, but goals from forwards Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams were too much for the Reign to overcome.

Dunn started the game on the bench, but just six minutes into the game, the US national team star was forced into action. Forward Cali Farquharson was injured after colliding with a Reign player and was carried off the field by the stretcher. Farquharson returned to the field on crutches and a brace on her left knee after the game.

Williams drew a penalty kick for the Spirit in the 41st minute, but midfielder Christine Nairn would put the kick wide of the right post. Nairn would redeem herself late in first half stoppage time as she played a free kick quickly to Dunn down the right side of the field. Dunn cut back towards the center of the field before ripping a shot towards the back post, placing it in the upper corner past Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s outstretched arms.

“She really turned the corner tonight,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I thought she was playing one, two touch, she was moving and then when she had the chance to take someone one v one, and then just a spectacular shot.”

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Dunn once again had an impact, setting up Williams for the second goal of the game. As Dunn neared the end line, she played a ball into the six yard box of Seattle. Kopmeyer was able to get a hand on it, but a crashing Williams deposited the rebound for her third goal of the season.

“Up front, we have the unfortunate injury to Cali and then to have Crystal and Cheyna and [Ordega] on the same field up front really prevented them from holding a high line like they tried to hold in the first half,” Gabarra said. “We put them under a lot of pressure and kind of kept them honest and they couldn’t throw everything at us as much as they would like.”

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Kim Little would get one back for the away team in the 70th minute on a penalty kick past Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. Seattle was awarded the penalty after a handball in the box by Nairn. The defense for the Spirit stood tall all game to assure the potent attack of the Reign remained under control.

“It was a very good team performance and especially rewarding for me to start seven different players and have a player like Line step out there and not having played in the league and play 90 minutes against the best midfield in the league and hold their own,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner was great at right back, Caprice, that was probably her best game of the season and Shelina Zadorsky stepping in and kind of leading the back line was just awesome.”

The Spirit will hit the road for the final two regular season games of the year. First up is a trip to Seattle for a Sunday rematch with the Reign. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. (10 p.m. on the east coast.) The final game of the regular will be Sep. 24, 2016 in Chicago vs. the Red Stars.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKatie Stengel

Cheyna Williams

Friday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride was an opportunity for the Spirit to increase its lead on the rest of the league and get closer to securing a playoff spot. The Spirit traveled to Orlando to face the Pride in the first official game back from the Olympic break. Goals from forward Cheyna Williams and midfielder Christine Nairn would be enough for the Spirit to hold off the Pride for a 2-1 road win.

For most of the opening fifteen minutes, the visitors controlled the play, earning two early corner kicks. It wouldn’t be until the 37th minute that the persistence of the Spirit would pay off. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams was able to shake Orlando defender Kaylyn Kyle to get off a left footed shot above goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

The Spirit would double its lead in the 57th minute off of a goal from Nairn. After dribbling into the box, forward Katie Stengel spun out of pressure to find a streaking Nairn wide open on the left side. Nairn took a setup touch before placing a low, hard shot back towards the right post past a visibly upset Harris. The goal was Nairn’s third in two games.

Orlando would not go down without a fight and managed to get a goal back in the 71st minute. Forward Sarah Hagen, who was a second half sub for Orlando head coach Tom Sermani, would get on the end of a ball in from Cami Levin to redirect it past Kelsey Wys. The goal from the Pride marked only the 14th goal given up by the Spirit in 16 games played. The Spirit now have a goal differential of +12, good for the best mark in the league.

The Spirit would clinch a playoff spot on Saturday if Reign FC lose or draw vs. Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC lose vs. Red Stars.

Forward Crystal Dunn made her return to the lineup after playing for the USWNT in the Rio Olympics. Dunn’s return came at the perfect time for the Spirit as Estefania Banini underwent knee surgery this past week. Banini is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

NWSL action will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, Sep. 3, 2016. The Spirit will play host to the WNY Flash. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Christine NairnSpirit Squadron

Christine Nairn talks with official

This week on the podcast I have Chris and Jenn from the Spirit Squadron and midfielder Christine Nairn.

First, Chris and Jenn talk to us about the inception of the Spirit Squadron, being fans of the Spirit, and how fans can help the NWSL grow.

Then, Christine Nairn returns to the podcast. She was one of the first to appear on the show, but that was before I had a typical interview flow. Now, she’s back to answer our usual questions and talk about stepping up as captain during the Olympic break.

Enjoy!

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

Christine NairnEstefania BaniniFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysTori Huster

The Washington Spirit’s four game homestand came to a close Saturday night with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. Thanks to goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Katie Stengel, the Spirit picked up its third 2-0 win in the last four games. For Banini, the goal marked her second of the season, while Stengel’s strike brought her goal total to three.

Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Ordega, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Ordega, Farquharson

For the first time since June 18, 2016 against Orlando, the Spirit got on the board in the first half. Just 20 minutes into the game, Francisca Ordega received a pass at the top of the 18 yard box from Banini before laying it off for the Argentinian inside the box. Banini took a few touches before slotting it home past Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton.

In the 73rd minute, Ordega made way for Stengel just before a corner kick. Stengel immediately made her presence known as she ran straight to Dalton and stood right in front of her for the corner kick. The substitution would pay off for the Spirit as Stengel rose up and headed home Christine Nairn’s corner kick. After driving many low corner kicks all night, Nairn was able to get air underneath the ball, making it easy for Stengel to redirect.

Eleven games into the 2016 NWSL season, the Spirit has now recorded seven shutouts. Despite losing two defenders in Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky and starting goalkeeper Steph Labbé to national team duties, Washington has been able to piece together two shutouts in the past two games. The Spirit has leaned on defender Megan Oyster and goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to keep the backline together.

“I think we made a little bit more of a positive step integrating our newer players in the back, but there is still an awful lot to work on defensively,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I think [Wys] makes a huge save there to keep us in the game.To get a clean sheet and win three of four home games, nine of twelve points makes me feel good, but there is always the next game and always got a lot of things we can be better at.”

The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0
The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0

After four straight games at home, the Spirit will head back on the road for the first time since June 10, 2016. This will be the first road test for the Spirit without its US and Canadian Olympic players.

“I think having four games at home has been really nice,” midfielder Tori Huster said. “We are not going to be used to going on the road. It’s been nice to be home with your fans, we are going to deal with a little bit of adversity on the road, I’m sure. I think if we can just stay tight as a group, if there is a little bit of adversity, I think when we stay tight, that’s going to solve a lot of the problems, no matter what the problem is.”

The Spirit will head to Kansas City next Saturday to face the defending NWSL champions. It will be the second matchup between the two teams in three weeks. In the previous meeting, the Spirit picked up three points in a 2-0 win. Kick off is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Kansas City (7 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoChristine NairnJim Gabarra

Caprice Dydasco

This week on Follow Your Spirit I talk with defender Caprice Dydasco.

The episode begins with two post-game interviews from Coach Gabarra and Christine Nairn.

The second segment features my interview with Dydasco. We talk about the usual subjects like how she got into soccer, her chemistry with the team, and how she’s prepared for the match tonight against Chicago Red Stars.

Caprice also answers the question: Who is most likely to have a body buried in her backyard? Her answer may be concerning.

Enjoy today’s episode and I hope to see you at the Plex!

@CapriceDydasco

@SpiritCoverage

Caprice Dydasco