Crystal DunnPodcast

Crystal Dunn kneeling

The poor news keeps piling on for Washington Spirit fans. Crystal Dunn officially announced that she is leaving the NWSL and heading to Europe to play for Chelsea.

With Dunn leaving, 33% of the Spirit’s scoring in 2016 has left. Banini had five goals, Dunn had two, and Nairn had three. Let’s not forget Ali’s goal, either.

Fortunately, Washington has depth and still has Stengel, Williams, and Ordega ready to command the attack. The question is, will it be as potent at as the 2016 offense?

Tim Lawson, Jordan Small, and Monica Esenwein sat down to discuss Dunn’s departure and the news that WNY Flash have moved to North Carolina. Enjoy the first podcast episode of 2017!

Is there a player or topic you’d like to see featured on the podcast? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Follow the Follow Your Spirit team on Twitter!

Follow Your Spirit: @SpiritCoverage

Jordan Small: @jols98

Monica Esenwein: @Monz59

Tim Lawson: @TimLawson21

Kelley Piper: @kpiperphotos

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.

Crystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKelsey Wys

For the second straight weekend, the Washington Spirit failed to lock up the NWSL Shield, now clearing the way for the Portland Thorns to claim the best regular season record with just a point vs. Sky Blue on Sunday.  The Spirit defensive corps struggled throughout the game, giving up three goals to the host Chicago Red Stars. While Crystal Dunn got one back, it wouldn’t be enough for the Spirit as they dropped their second straight road contest 3-1.

Just six minutes into the game, Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo played a through ball into forward Christen Press on the right side. Press picked up the ball, beat Spirit defender Estelle Johnson and rocketed a left footed shot to the back post past goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

In the 26th minute, Chicago found the back of the net again. Despite being surrounded by three Spirit defenders, Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta was able to find forward Cara Walls. Walls played a lot shot into the left side of the net past Wys to give Chicago the 2-0 lead.

The opening minutes of the second half were action packed. Less than a minute, Huerta picked up a loose ball at around midfield and took off down the right side. As a few Spirit defenders backed off in anticipation of the cross, Huerta decided to take the sharp angled shot and was able to sneak the ball in at the back post, putting the Spirit in a deep hole.

Right off of the ensuing kickoff, Dunn got one goal back for Washington. Dunn’s low blast seemed to catch Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton off guard as the shot dribbled right past Dalton’s outstretched arms. That however, would be all the Red Stars defense would give up in the final game of the regular season for both squads.

On a positive note for the Spirit, forward Estefania Banini made her return from injury in the 81st minute. The Argentine international had knee surgery on Aug. 24, 2016 and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Banini’s return will bring some much needed scoring depth back to the lineup just in time for the playoffs.

Washington will return home for a semifinal match on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. The match will be the first home playoff game in franchise history. While the seeding is still unknown, the playoff field is set. The Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash will all accompany the Spirit in the four-team playoffs. Match-ups for the semifinals will be announced following the conclusion of tonight’s Portland vs. Sky Blue game.

UPDATE: With a 3-1 victory on Sunday night, the Portland Thorns won the 2016 NWSL Shield. The Thorns will host the WNY Flash on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Spirit will play the Red Stars on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Crystal DunnJoanna LohmanKelsey WysStephanie Labbe

Coach Gabarra

The second episode this week features Monica Esenwein from Backline Soccer.

Monica and I have been sharing a media table at Spirit home games all season and have gotten to know each other pretty well during that period. Her colleagues at Backline Soccer have been very kind to have me on their programming and I thought it was only fitting to have her on mine.

The first half of this episode is about the win on Wednesday night against the Reign, the potential playoff match-up, and how we feel about the Spirit overall.

The second half addresses the national anthem controversy from the same game. I served in the military and Monica comes from a military family, so we both had plenty to say about the situation.

If you’re not interested in more national anthem banter, don’t worry, the first 25 minutes is all about the Spirit. Please, take the time to listen to that, because that’s what is most important right now.

Follow our guest on Twitter @Monz59

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

Crystal DunnJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Kelsey Wys

It’s game day! Today’s podcast will reflect on last week’s loss, preview today’s game, and feature Kelsey Wys.

The Spirit were flat against Sky Blue last week and it led to a disappointing loss. Now that the Olympic team players are gone, new leadership has a chance to step up and bring the Spirit back to winning form.

The first segment off today’s show includes post-game interviews with Coach Gabarra and Crystal Dunn.

Following that is my interview with goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. Kelsey talks about how she got into soccer, her chemistry with the team, and which player is most likely to have a body buried in their back yard.

Let us know if you agree with Kelsey’s answer. Which Spirit player would you expect to have that? Tell us on Twitter:

@KelseyWys

@SpiritCoverage

@TimLawson

Kelsey Wys

Ali KriegerChristine NairnCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJoanna LohmanStephanie Labbe

After winning the first two road contests of the year, the Washington Spirit’s undefeated season came crashing down at the hands of the Portland Thorns. The road woes for the Spirit had made their way to the 2016 season. While the Spirit was able to get a goal onto the board in the second half, strong first half play from the Thorns, and lackluster defending from the Spirit, led to a 4-1 win for the Thorns.

Joanna Lohman scored the loan goal for the visitors, bringing her season total to three. She is among five other players, including Diana Matheson, who lead the league in goals. Her header off of a Crystal Dunn cross in the 55th minute gave the Spirit life, but it did not help stop the strong Portland attack.

Portland’s first goal started off of a Tobin Heath corner kick in the 26th minute. Heath curled a right footed cross into the box, and poor marking from Spirit defender Ali Krieger allowed Lindsey Horan to run onto the corner and into the goal.

Just six minutes later, another mistake by the defense would once again hurt the defense. After a ball came into the box, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé attempted to clear the ball from the attack. A miscue between Labbé and defender Alyssa Kleiner would result in Labbé’s clear bouncing off of Kleiner for an own goal.

The defensive problems went from bad to worse, as Tobin Heath picked up a mistake by Megan Oyster to go in one-on-one with Labbé. Heath chipped Labbé to give the home team a 3-0 lead heading into the break.

The second half was a better defensive half for the Spirit, but it was a little too late. Despite being down two, and then three goals throughout the second half, the Spirit showed a sense of urgency that was lacking in the first half. A goal by sub Meg Morris put the nail in the coffin for the Spirit with 12 minutes remaining in the game.

The game was another physical one, which was to be expected after the 0-0 draw that saw five yellow cards given back in Maryland. Two weeks later, the physicality was matched, with five yellows doled out on Saturday evening. Christine Nairn picked up the only yellow for the Spirit after getting tangled up with Thorns forward Nadia Nadim.

It will be interesting to see how the Spirit responds next week, as the squad has yet to drop points in two straight matches. The biggest question mark is how will the defense bounce back next week against a team they have already held scoreless this season in the Houston Dash. Another thing to watch out for is how the team lineup. Jim Gabarra has not named the same starting XI for two games in a row all season.

The Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the Dash. Kickoff for the Friday night matchup will be 8:30 EST.

Cali FarquharsonCrystal DunnGame PreviewJim GabarraJoanna LohmanPodcast

Cali Farquharson

Week 6 is here! Cali Farquharson and the Washington Spirit head to Portland to face the Thorns. Both teams go into the match undefeated, so there is a lot both teams can prove with a win tonight.

This week’s episode features sound bites from Coach Gabarra, Crystal Dunn, and Joanna Lohman on teamwork and camaraderie.

Then, a few minutes previewing the match in Portland.

The podcast wraps up with a fun interview with rookie forward Cali Farquharson.

Enjoy!

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