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)

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

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Memorial Stadium in Seattle has never been kind to the Washington Spirit. In six games there in three years, the Spirit have yet to register a win. Saturday’s game vs. the Seattle Reign didn’t change that narrative. The Spirit fell behind early in the game and found no improvement in the second half. The opportunity for the Spirit to clinch the NWSL Shield will have to wait another day as the Reign defeated the Spirit 2-0 to keep Seattle’s slim playoff hopes alive.

Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute with a goal from forward Beverly Yanez. Forward Megan Rapinoe drove down the left side, beating Spirit defender Ali Krieger, to drive in a cross. Yanez was able to slip past the Spirit defense and tap in the cross to give the home team the much needed lead.

The Reign would double its lead in the 78th minute when midfielder Keelin Winters rocketed home a shot past an outstretched Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. The goal was an extra special one for the Reign captain as she was playing in her final home game after announcing she would retire at the end of the season.

Winters (right) played in her final home game on Saturday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.
Winters (right) played in her final home game on Sunday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.

Washington had chances of its own in both halves, but stellar team defending from the Reign shutout the Spirit for just the third time this season. The best chance for the Spirit in the first half came in the 41st minute. After midfielder Joanna Lohman took the initial shot, all chaos broke out as multiple Spirit players attempted to put the ball in the back of the net. But the Reign defense would have none of it. A shot from defender Estelle Johnson in the 89th minute also pinballed around the box, but again, no goal for the Spirit.

Krieger was the only one of the Spirit’s five Olympians that started the game. Midfielder Diana Matheson would enter as a second half sub, coming on in the 76th minute for Lohman. Trying to get minutes for everyone heading into the playoffs, head coach Jim Gabarra put together yet another combination on the front line. Along with Katie Stengel and Franny Ordega, Alyssa Kleiner got her first start of the season at forward after briefly seeing time there as a sub. This was the 16th different combination Gabarra has put out at forward in 19 games this season.

Washington will hit the road one more time, heading to Chicago to wrap up regular season action against the playoff-bound Red Stars. The game will be played on Sep. 24, 2016 at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. on the east coast). The NWSL will be off this next upcoming week as the USWNT hosts Thailand on Sep. 15, 2016 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) and the Netherlands on Sep. 18, 2016 (7 p.m. ET on FS1).

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Diana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysShelina ZadorskyStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday night in search of a point to secure a spot in the 2016 NWSL Playoffs. Western New York came to town to try and better its spot in the standings in the race to the playoffs. Goals from Spirit forward Katie Stengel and Flash midfielder Sam Mewis would assure both teams would walk away with a point.

“[WNY is] a very athletic team and very good in the air,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “Huge challenge and I think that’s what you’ve got to expect coming down the stretch here when you’re at the top, everyone’s going to come after you with all they have. I thought they put us under a lot of pressure and we really had a hard time getting a hold of the tempo of the game in the first 25 minutes.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn

Both teams exchanged chances, but neither was able to find the back of the net in the first half. Flash forward Lynn Williams had the best chance of the first half when a cross landed at her feet in the 37th minute. A quick save from Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys kept the game scoreless headed into the half.

Just under 15 minutes into the second half, Stengel would break open the scoring with a goal past Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. After being denied by D’Angelo twice in the previous few minutes, Stengel assured she would not be stopped again. Stengel beat D’Angelo in a foot race, jumped over the diving keeper to slot home the go-ahead goal. The goal was the forward’s fourth of the season.

The lead would not last long though. After multiple failed clearing attempts from the Spirit defense, Mewis would pounce on a loose ball at the top of the box and send it skipping past Wys. Despite switching to five defenders in the back in the 79th minute, the Flash would tie it up in the 86th minute to steal a point on the road.

“We had to fight for that point,” Stengel said. “Anytime a late goal is scored, it’s disappointing. We thought we would come away with three points, but they were putting a lot of pressure on us.”

Saturday marked the return of the Canadian Olympians to the Spirit squad. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, midfielder Diana Matheson and defender Shelina Zadorsky were all honored prior to kick-off. While the three did not make it back into the starting XI, both Matheson and Zadorsky did enter the match as second half subs.

“We have a deep squad, so when people leave for national team duty, we still have a fantastic starting eleven and bench,” Matheson said. “People are working hard to get starting spots, and if you’re not getting them, you’re supporting everyone else out there. It’s just a good, positive group.”

The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday's game.
The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday’s game.

While Labbé returned to the game day roster, Gabarra stuck with Wys in goal. Wys, who has started eight of the Spirit’s 17 games this season, made 12 saves to keep the potent Flash attack at bay. Now with two highly talented goalkeepers on the roster, Gabarra is left with a tough decision on game day when choosing a starting goalkeeper.

“It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem. It’s a headache,” Gabarra said. “It’s great to have Steph there and I’m sure there will be some competition over the next week, but as of right now, Kelsey has got the starting position and it’s up to Steph to beat her out.”

The Spirit return to the SoccerPlex on Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016 to face the Seattle Reign for the first time this season. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. While the Spirit have secured a playoff spot, continuing to gather points will be important in the chase for the NWSL shield for best record in the league.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Diana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie Labbe

Saturday night’s game versus Sky Blue was one to forget for the Spirit. Coming off one of the most complete games of the season against the Orlando Pride last weekend, the Spirit fell flat against its regional rivals. While a late goal from Diana Matheson gave the home side hope, the comeback would fall short with Sky Blue taking a 2-1 win, and three points, back to New Jersey.

Starting XI: Labbé; Krieger, Oyster, Zadorsky, Kleiner; Huster, Nairn, Matheson; Ordega, Banini, Dunn
Starting XI: Labbé; Krieger, Oyster, Zadorsky, Kleiner; Huster, Nairn, Matheson; Ordega, Banini, Dunn

Just 8 minutes into the game, Sky Blue rookie Raquel Rodriguez found open space at the top of the 18 yard box and rocketed home her first NWSL goal. The Spirit failed to cover Rodriguez, and the Costa Rican made Washington pay. Things would go from bad to worse early in the second half when forward Tasha Kai made way for Sam Kerr in the 63rd minute. On her first touch of the game, Kerr hit a one time volley past Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé.

“It was just way too easy for them to break our lines in front of our back four,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “So when that happens, then of course your back four is exposed. And they’ve got some good attacking players, putting [Kelley] O’Hara up front with Kai and [Leah] Galton and then Sam Kerr, probably the best attacking player they have, coming on as a sub, it’s a long day for our defenders.”

Despite the lackluster performance, the Spirit would get one back in the 77th minute. Beginning in the 75th minute, the Spirit began to show some life. It would be rewarded on a goal from Matheson. Estefania Banini sent a ball in towards Matheson, who was unmarked inside the box. Matheson rose up and headed home the cross to cut the Sky Blue lead to just one. But that would be all the home side could muster together against the visitors form Jersey.

“It felt like we were pushing for a while,” Matheson said. “The first half was not great for sure, by our standards, second half was a lot better. We created a lot more. [Banini] just sent in a great ball for me and I had a lot of room, so I’m glad I managed to finish it. I don’t get to score many with my head.”

Matheson runs back to center field after scoring in the 77th minute
Matheson runs back to center field after scoring in the 77th minute

The game marked the beginning of a transition period for the Spirit as many players will be forced to step up with the departure of the national team players. Canadians Stephanie Labbé, Diana Matheson and Shelina Zadorsky depart for a month long training camp that includes two matches against France. US national team players Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger also leave this week for the final training camp before the final Olympic roster is announced.

“Well it’s a transition period, win, lose or draw after this game,” Gabarra said. “There will be some other players who will step into starting roles now, and that’ll be their chance to shine and prove they one, belong on this roster, and two, be a starter in the league. We’re confident that we have those players. And we have players who haven’t even seen the field that could be starting for other teams.”

Next up for the Spirit is FC Kansas City on Saturday, July 2. This will be the first matchup between the two sides this season. The Spirit will look to bounce back at home against the seventh place team. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Christine NairnCrystal DunnDiana MathesonJim Gabarra

On Friday night, the Spirit picked up its third win of the season, and third on the road. Behind two goals from Diana Matheson and an own goal from the Flash, Washington was able to leave Rochester with three more points and a firm grasp of the top spot of the table for another week.

In the 4th minute of the game, Crystal Dunn received a pass from Christine Nairn into the middle of the park. As the defense began to swarm on the speedy forward, Dunn was able to quickly thread a through ball out wide to the edge of the 18-yard box for the on running Matheson. Matheson wasted no time depositing the ball past fellow Canadian national team member and Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo.

Just before the half, midfielder Joanna Lohman committed a foul just outside the box, giving the Flash a dangerous opportunity to tie it up. Abby Dahlkemper’s free kick went right to Spirit goalkeeper Steph Labbé, who was able to come up with the easy save.

Things became a little dicey for the Spirit to start the second half. After a ball was played into the box, Megan Oyster was called for the foul on the clearing attempt, giving the Flash a penalty kick in the 49th minute. Sam Mewis stepped up to take the kick and hit the right post. Just four minutes later, the post would save the day for the Spirit, as Taylor Smith was able to curl the ball around Labbé, but unable to beat the post.

In her first career start, forward Cheyna Williams was taken down in the box by Flash defender Jaelene Hinkle, giving the Spirit a chance to double its lead. Matheson stepped up and scored her second goal of the evening, and third of the season.

“Matheson is one of the best PK kickers in the league,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said.

Elizabeth Eddy picked up a yellow card in the 80th minute, giving Nairn a chance to take a dangerous free kick from just to the left of the 18-yard box. The free kick dropped into a slew of players and bounced off of a Flash player for the third Spirit goal of the evening.

While the Spirit scored three goals on the evening, the team will look to improve the build up out of the midfield. The Spirit struggled to string together long buildups through the midfielders. As Washington returns home to face the Portland Thorns on May 7, look to see if Gabarra makes any changes in the starting XI. Kick off versus the Thorns is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Maryland Soccer Plex.

Ali KriegerDiana MathesonJim Gabarra

Goals from Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson lead the Washington Spirit (2-0-0) to its second win, defeating Sky Blue (1-1-0) 2-1.

For the first 40 minutes of the game, the game was mainly played in the midfield. Krieger put the visitors ahead in the 40th minute off of what looked to be in between a cross and a shot. The ball sailed over Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey and into the back of the net, just inside the far post. The goal marked Krieger’s first goal since May 3rd of  2014.

After the break, Canadian international Diana Matheson received a through ball into the box from Crystal Dunn and deposited it between the legs of Casey. The goal doubled the Spirit’s lead and put them in full control of the game.

Ten minutes later, Sky Blue forward Maya Hayes got the home team back within one, but the Spirit defense held strong to close out the game.

“It was important for our momentum to get a win on the road,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “The team did a really good job of coming out with a lot more energy and motivation the second half. It’s good for our first road game of the year, especially in a place where we have to come to twice. It’s good psychologically for us to continue the momentum that we started at the home opener.”

In Gabarra’s return to Yursak Field, Washington was able to grab three points to move into first place in the NWSL standings. The Spirit will now travel to Rochester, NY to take on the WNY Flash (1-1-0). The Flash will be coming off a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars. Kick off for the game will be Friday at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit the Washington Spirit website.