Estefania Banini

On Wednesday, September 20, Argentine goalkeeper Elisabeth Minnig posted a message on Twitter announcing that the women’s national team would go on strike. Poor travel and training conditions, along with pay, were issues brought up in the statement.

According to a report from the Equalizer, players are paid roughly $8.50, or 150 pesos, per training session and were forced to sleep on a bus for a recent friendly, the team’s first in over two years.

After last weekend’s match vs. the Boston Breakers, I spoke with Argentine and Washington Spirit forward Estefania Banini about the decision to go on strike.


Follow Your Spirit: Can you talk about the team’s decision to go on strike?

Estefania Banini: The reality is the girls expressed in a letter that they are asking for some basic conditions. I think that [AFA] has many resources to start supporting the women’s team. I think that now is the time that our voices should be heard so that the women’s team in Argentina grows to the level that we need to be. It is good that we are bringing these things to light because many things were talked about, even when I was not playing games with them, but apparently, the conditions were very bad so it’s good that they are pressing on.

FYS: It’s been almost two years since a game, why is this happening now?

EB: Because I believe that we are tired of waiting. They said they were going to change things and they haven’t really changed. I think that when they constantly promise and then don’t comply then I think that’s the moment where we must do these things in order to make them listen and pay Attention. And what the team is doing [striking] takes valor.

FYS: What does the team look for to gain with the strike?

EB: The truth is basic conditions. We are not asking for them to pay us the same as the men. We are asking for basic rights. Travel and stay in a hotel, good food, to be able to rest well. The girls there do not have a professional league. When they go to the national team, they have to miss work or their studies, and that generates costs. What we are asking for is a compensation, something economical, so that it covers costs when they come to train. So just the basics.

FYS: What impact does the team hope to have on the federation?

EB: Hopefully that we have an impact and that it works out. We really hope what happened is a good starting point for us to grow. But it depends on the federation and the people in charge of making the decisions.

 

Translation assisted by Sandra Herrera.

Cheyna WilliamsDiDi HaracicEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim Gabarra

After more than a month on the road, the Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the Boston Breakers. Despite having the lead twice in the match, the Spirit would only take away one point in the 2-2 draw.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Haracic; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Banini, Dougherty Howard, Huster; Pugh, Ship, Solaun

Washington opened the scoring in the sixth minute on a goal from Estelle Johnson. The right back, who has been more engaged in the attack in recent weeks, saw her original shot blocked by Boston goalkeeper Abby Smith. The rebound fell right to Johnson who slotted home her second goal of the season.

“We worked all week on getting a lot of numbers forward and one thing that they really wanted from me is to contribute more to the attack,” Johnson said after the game.” I just saw it happening and we work a lot on passing patterns. I saw it happening in my head and I was like this is my chance. I kind of stole it from [Solaun] but sometimes you have to take initiative to get what you want.”

The Spirit looked as if they would take a 1-0 lead into the half, but a goal from Canadian international Adriana Leon brought the visitors back even. Leon tucked home her first of two goals on the afternoon just past Spirit goalkeeper DiDi Haracic in the 44th minute.

Around the halfway point of the second half, forward Cheyna Williams reclaimed the lead for the home side. Forward Estefania Banini played a ball towards the Boston goal where Smith made a tip save off the bar. The rebound, however, would fall right to the waiting head of Williams, who tapped the ball just over the goal line.

Leon would complete her brace in the 79th minute with the help of forward Ifeoma Onumonu. As Leon broke towards the center of the box, Onumonu played a ball across the face of goal, connecting with Leon’s left foot for the equalizer.

The tie on Saturday completed a stretch of three games in eight days for Washington. In total, 17 different players saw the field for the Spirit over the three game stretch. Haracic saw her first game action as a member of the Spirit on Saturday, making one save in the tie.

“We were always going to rotate the roster and that included the goalkeeper,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “DiDi has done a great job in training and deserved a game at some point.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Haracic during her first match for the Washington Spirit.

For Haracic, a Round Hill, VA native, it was an opportunity to play a professional match close to home. It was her first time playing at the Maryland SoccerPlex as a professional, but her experience as a member of the Spirit Reserves and D.C. United Women helped her get to where she is today.

“It’s a great opportunity to be playing back at home,” Haracic said after the game. “This league has grown so much from D.C. United Women to being on the Reserves to now being here. It was a great opportunity with a great crowd and a good atmosphere. I enjoyed it.”

Washington returns to action next Saturday, August 19 as they travel to Cary, NC to take on the North Carolina Courage. The game will be broadcasted on Lifetime as part of the Game of the Week series. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with kickoff to follow at 3:50 p.m. The Spirit return to the Plex on August 26 to take on the Chicago Red Stars.

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

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

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

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

Estefania BaniniFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageStephanie Labbe

After a rough few weeks, the Washington Spirit got back on track Saturday night. Behind goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Francisca Ordega, Washington was able to grab three points from Orlando in a 2-0 win. The game marked the first major sporting event for an Orlando based team since the mass-shooting that took place at the Pulse night club in Orlando last Sunday.

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

The Spirit controlled the game from the start, dominating possession in the first half. The back line for Washington did a great job disrupting passes into the Orlando forwards, thwarting the attack for the Pride. While the defense did its job in the back, the midfield and forwards were relentless in the attack on the Pride back line. Orlando struggled to handle the pressure, and it would cost them in the 9th minute.

Banini received a cross into the box from left back Alyssa Kleiner, took a few touches, and slotted it home past Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. The Spirit had a number of chances in the first half, but were unable to convert until the 40th minute. A great individual effort by Ordega was rewarded, as the Nigerian international recorded her first goal of the season.

“When I saw the ball go into the net, it was like oh my god,” Ordega said, “I was so happy.”

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Ordega slots the ball past the Pride defense, for her first goal of the season, to put the Spirit up 2-0

Both teams had chances in the second half, but neither team was able to convert. With the shutout, that brings Spirit goalkeeper Steph Labbé’s shutout total to five for the season. That ties her with Chicago’s Alyssa Naeher for the league lead.

Prior to kickoff, both teams took part in honoring those who were affected by the tragedies in Orlando last weekend. The starters for both sides dawned ‘Orlando United’ t-shirts instead of the normal warmup jackets. Prior to the National Anthem, the stadium took part in a moment of silence. Then, just before kickoff, both starting elevens came together at midfield to take a picture in front of the logo with the half stars and stripes, half rainbow ribbon and the words “We Stand With Orlando.”

“Today, if you look in the crowd, there’s not Washington Spirit fans versus Orlando Pride fans,” Harris said. “Today we were just one collective group coming together to celebrate the lives of the people who didn’t make it out of Pulse and the victims’ families. Today was just about honoring them and taking a few moments out of our game to pay respect and be grateful that we are still here, getting to do what we love every day. It was more than just about us. It was about bringing this entire place together.”

The final piece in honoring Orlando came in the 49th minute. As the crowd began to rise and applaud, the game came to a halt on the field. For the whole minute, it became about so much more than just a soccer match. Fans, players and staff from both sides came together to honor those who lost their lives.

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The Spirit Squadron made a tifo in support of the Orlando community

“That was a special moment,” Labbé said. “It was extremely emotional. In those moments, you kind of just took a breath and your heart went to all the people who’s lives are affected. Family, friends, the whole LGBTQ community. The biggest thing was to kind of giving your love and your prayers to them and sending your heart there. Then just the refocus to get back into the game.”

After being on the road for over a month, the Spirit returned home to a record crowd of 5,750 people. With three more games remaining on this home stand, Washington will look to continue packing the Maryland SoccerPlex. Next Saturday, Sky Blue comes to the Plex for the first time this season. This will be the second of four matches between these two teams this season. The previous meeting was a 2-1 win for the Spirit.