Andi SullivanAshley HatchEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca QuinnRose LavelleWhitney Church

After three weeks on the road, the Washington Spirit returned home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the visiting Portland Thorns. One strike was all it took for the Thorns to take home all three points on a rainy Saturday night in Maryland.

For most of the evening, the Spirit had the better of the attack. But for the third straight game, Washington was unable to break the scoresheet and were shutout once again. In the 68th minute, Portland substitute Ellie Carpenter crashed hard to the net to finish a ball for her first ever NWSL goal, making her the youngest to ever score in the league.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Quinn, Dydasco; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Sullivan; Pugh, Hatch, Banini.

Whitney Church Shines at Center Back

In her three seasons for the Spirit, Whitney Church has struggled with the fast paced NWSL game. On Saturday night however, Church had one of her best games for the Spirit, anchoring the backline with Estelle Johnson out once again. While Church is not known for her speed, her positional awareness, ability to out jump players much taller than her, and her well weighted long balls have made her a key piece of this year’s backline.

“I saw what I expect to see from her. I’ve seen that in her for the last two to three years,” Gabarra said after the game. “She’s a tremendous defender and she always seems to be in the right place and that’s my expectation of her is to play games like that. I’m just glad she’s comfortable enough and secure enough now to be able to show everyone else.”

With Johnson out, the captain’s armband has been worn by Church. More of a quieter player in her first season, Church has stepped up and become a leader on the team. Alongside Johnson and Tori Huster, head coach Jim Gabarra considers Church to be one of the veteran leaders on the Spirit.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Whitney Church was presented the Spirit Squadron’s player of the match trophy following the game.

The Offense Goes Quiet Once Again

It has been over 350 minutes since the Spirit last scored a goal. On April 28, Francisca Ordega scored against the Chicago Red Stars in the 4th minute. Since then, the Spirit have played three full games without putting a goal up on the scoresheet. While the goalkeeping from the opposition has been good, the Spirit are just not getting it done. Washington ended up with four shots on goal, but most were right at Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.

On Saturday night, the Spirit switched up the front three to try and get a spark going offensively. Ordega was sent to the bench and Estefania Banini moved up to the front line from the midfield. Alongside Banini were Mallory Pugh and Ashley Hatch. Ordega would eventually come in off the bench for Hatch, but was unable to deliver.

The Spirit will now welcome a winless Sky Blue team to the Plex on Wednesday night. Sky Blue has allowed 12 goals in just six games played this season. If the Spirit are going to break this goalless drought, it needs to come Wednesday night.

“I think we are getting the opportunities, we just need to put them away,” midfielder Andi Sullivan said. “We have great opportunities to break through and we just have got to have that final touch. I think it takes like 10 shots to make a goal so the floodgates are going to open soon, I’m sure.”

A Possible Rose Lavelle Return

According to head coach Jim Gabarra, midfielder Rose Lavelle could be available for Wednesday’s game against Sky Blue.

“We’re hopeful that Wednesday she’s available for selection.”

Lavelle, who has been out with a hamstring injury since August 2, was acquired in the dispersal draft from the Boston Breakers. If Lavelle is available on Wednesday, expect her to play very limited minutes off the bench. This isn’t the first time this season that Lavelle has been deemed almost ready to play so it will most likely be something that isn’t actually confirmed until Wednesday.

Next Up

The Spirit will return to action on Wednesday night to take on Sky Blue at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. After that, the Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Sunday, May 27.

Andi SullivanEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageGame PreviewRebecca QuinnWhitney Church

The Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage will meet on Saturday evening for the second time this season. After a 4-2 defeat at home to North Carolina, Washington will now travel to Cary to take on the first place Courage.

Kick-Off

7:00 PM ET on Saturday, May 12, 2018

Location

Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina

Projected Starting Lineup

Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn,  Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Estefania Banini; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega

Noteworthy

Estelle Johnson is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. She injured her hamstring during practice on Wednesday. While it is still possible that she plays, her effectiveness will be a question for the match. During practice on Wednesday, Whitney Church and Rebecca Quinn were paired together at the center back position.  

Injuries

OUT: Rose Lavelle (left hamstring strain), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)

QUESTIONABLE: Estelle Johnson (right hamstring strain)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Key to Victory

Win the midfield. North Carolina has one of the best midfields in the league. If the Spirit want to pick up a win on the road, they will have to improve the play of the midfield. With Estefania Banini returning and Rebecca Quinn expected to play on the backline, the midfield could look very different from weeks past. Expect Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, and Banini to be the trio faced with stopping the high powered Courage midfield. Banini will help improve the offensive production of the midfield, something that has been lacking over the past month.

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Andi SullivanAubrey BledsoeEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageMallory PughMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca Quinn

The Washington Spirit returned home on Saturday evening to take on the Chicago Red Stars. Both teams scored a goal in the first half to finish the match in a 1-1 draw.

Francisca Ordega opened the scoring in the fourth minute to put Washington ahead 1-0. Ordega has now scored in three straight games. The Red Stars would get one back in the 20th minute off of a rebound that fell right to Alyssa Mautz. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe made a play on the original ball but collided with Chicago forward Sam Kerr and was unable to recover for the second chance.

Jordan Small | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Johnson, Dydasco; Dougherty Howard, Sullivan, Huster; Ordega, Hatch, Pugh.

Aubrey Bledsoe Saves a Point Again

Last week, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe stopped a penalty kick which secured a point for Washington. The save also was voted save of the week. Coming into the game against the Red Stars, it was expected that Bledsoe would play a big role in stopping Australian international and 2017 NWSL MVP Sam Kerr from scoring.

The biggest save of the day came just four minutes before halftime. Sam Johnson headed a Chicago corner kick on goal, forcing a save out of Bledsoe. On the goal line, Bledsoe extended out and got her fingertips to the ball, parrying it away. While the goal was not scored, play was stopped because Bledsoe’s lip was bleeding, a result of colliding with defender Caprice Dydasco on the play. The Spirit Squadron awarded Bledsoe the Player of the Match trophy after the game.

Another Week, Another Ordega Goal

Three straight weeks sees Francisca Ordega’s name on the scorers sheet for the Spirit. This week forward Mallory Pugh played a ball across the end line that Ordega was able to tuck home at the back post. The partnership between the two is flourishing at just the right time. At the beginning of the year, it was unclear if Ordega would make the starting XI for the squad. With Estefania Banini being away with national team commitments, Ordega really stepped up. It is hard to imagine Ordega leaving the lineup any time soon.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Ordega and Pugh celebrate Ordega’s first half goal.

Rebecca Quinn Remains Out

For the third straight week, rookie Rebecca Quinn remains out because of an injury to the TFL muscle in her hip. While she was listed as questionable and did make the 18 player roster, Quinn did not see the field. The midfield has found its groove as of late with Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Andi Sullivan. It would be nice to have Quinn back though to play on the backline alongside Estelle Johnson as a center back.

Next Up

Washington will travel to Utah to take on the Utah Royals for the first time in club history. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on May 5.

Estefania BaniniGame Day CoverageGame Preview

The Washington Spirit will return home to face the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday evening.

Kick-Off

7:00 PM ET on Saturday, April 28, 2018

Location

Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland.

Projected Starting Lineup

Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega

Noteworthy

Estefania Banini and Yanara Aedo have returned to the active roster. Both were representing their countries, Argentina and Chile respectively, at the 2018 Copa America Femenina. With their return, Mallory Eubanks was released from the roster.

Injuries

OUT: Rose Lavelle (left hamstring strain), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)

QUESTIONABLE: Rebecca Quinn (right TFL muscle strain)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Key to Victory

Keeping Sam Kerr in check. After helping Australia qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Kerr returns to the NWSL and will make her Red Stars debut. The 2017 NWSL MVP was part of a monster draft day trade that sent her from Sky Blue to Chicago. If the Spirit want to come away with a point, keeping Kerr contained will be vital. Also, the Spirit will need to score quickly again and protect it because no lead is safe with Kerr on the other side of the pitch.

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Andi SullivanEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna LohmanMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca Quinn

The Washington Spirit opened up the 2018 NWSL season on Saturday night against the Seattle Reign at Memorial Stadium. Two first-half goals from Seattle sunk Washington in game one, 2-1.

Reign forward Megan Rapinoe opened the scoring in the 7th minute off of a free kick. With 10 minutes to go before halftime, former Spirit forward Jodie Taylor doubled the lead for the home team to send the Reign into the locker room up 2-0. A goal from Joanna Lohman in the 68th minute brought the Spirit within one, but that would be all Washington could do to comeback.

Defensive Mistakes Cost Washington

Rookie Rebecca Quinn was to make her NWSL debut on Saturday against the Reign but due to visa issues, she will have to wait another week to make that happen. Instead, Whitney Church slid into her spot in the center of the defense alongside Estelle Johnson. While Church did not have a particularly poor performance, the partnership between Church and right back Taylor Smith struggled.

“I think the biggest thing is you’ve got Whit and Taylor who haven’t played together and they’ve only had a couple of training sessions and a couple of games,” head coach Jim Gabarra said after the match. “Then you’ve got Rapinoe out there to deal with so it’s not a good cocktail. But you’ve got to get through it and you’ve got to find that relationship and it takes time for those.”

The second goal highlighted the Spirit’s struggle defensively, with a poor touch from Smith on the offensive end leading to an easy cross in from Rapinoe.

“I thought we were a little unlucky on the second goal,” Gabarra said. “I mean Taylor has a great read, she wins the ball but it goes right to them and they play it in behind her so it was a little unfortunate.”

Joanna Lohman Scores in Return From ACL Injury

In the 2017 season opener, Joanna Lohman’s season was over after just 22 minutes. Lohman tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament against the North Carolina Courage in April of last year. Almost a year later, Lohman returned to the pitch as a sub for Tori Huster at halftime. With 23 minutes gone in the second half, Lohman proved that she was officially back. Off of an assist from Estefania Banini, Lohman spun her way through the middle of the box and rifled a shot past goalkeeper Michelle Betos.

“I think it was such an amazing feeling, just getting back on the field,” Lohman said postgame. “I’ve really missed playing the game and obviously I’ve missed being with the Washington Spirit. They’ve been so supportive of me through my injury. I wasn’t fully expecting to play tonight, I think Jim and I’ve been talking about slowly getting me back into the games, so I was so excited to get in at halftime and try to make a difference and bring some energy. I was happy to do that and to get a goal was just an icing on the cake.”

Andi Sullivan Impresses in NWSL Debut

Rookie midfielder Andi Sullivan made her debut for the Washington Spirit on Saturday evening. The Lorton, VA native had three shots, two of which were on target in 90 minutes of work. Sullivan seemed to fit in seamlessly into the Spirit lineup alongside Tori Huster and Meggie Dougherty Howard.

“I thought she was a rock in their for us,” Gabarra said. “She was very reliable. I think she’s confident enough to withstand the tactics and professionalism that was thrown at her tonight. She just kept bouncing back and fought through it so it was really good to see that she’s at a level that she can play in this league and excel.”

Next Up

The Spirit will return home to face the Orlando Pride on March 31 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. This match will be the Lifetime Game of the Week and will kick off at 3:30 p.m.

“Well, home opener is always an exciting time,” Gabarra said. “I think we’ll have a little bit different opportunity to game plan against Orlando now that we’ve got a game on tape. We can also evaluate our play and make some refinements and clean up some details and some of those working relationships and get to know each other a little better.”

Estefania BaniniHavana SolaunJoanna LohmanMeggie Dougherty HowardRose LavelleTori Huster

With the 2018 season beginning on Saturday, Follow Your Spirit brings you a break down of each position group on the Washington Spirit. Next up, the midfielders.

The Group

#27 – Yanara Aedo

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Temuco, Chile

#10 – Estefania Banini

  • Age: 27
  • Hometown: Mendoza, Argentina

#8 – Meggie Dougherty Howard

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Largo, Florida

#23 – Tori Huster

  • Age: 28
  • Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

#16 – Rose Lavelle

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

#15 – Joanna Lohman

  • Age: 35
  • Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland

#12 – Morgan Profitt

  • Age: 23
  • Hometown: Columbus, Indiana

#9 – Havana Solaun

  • Age: 25
  • Hometown: Gainesville, Florida

#6 – Andi Sullivan

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Lorton, Virginia

Expectations

With the number one overall draft pick, the Spirit selected Andi Sullivan. Washington also acquired Rose Lavelle from Boston in the dispersal draft. It is tough to say what the starting lineup will be with this group. It will come down to which formation head coach Jim Gabarra decides on. In years past and this year’s preseason, Gabarra has played with three in the midfield. If this is the case for this year, expect to see Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard and Havana Solaun in the midfield.

While Estefania Banini is listed as a midfielder on the roster, expect to see her as a forward in the 4-3-3 system. Lavelle did not play in either preseason match and is not expected to be ready right away. Once she returns, Gabarra will be faced with the decision of whether or not to switch to a 4-4-2 instead. The midfield group is the deepest of all of the positions, however, many players are very similar. There are four to five players who could be classified as defensive midfielders. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the offense dynamic of the team.

Player to Watch

Andi Sullivan, a Lorton, Virginia native, returns to Washington after four years on the west coast at Stanford. Sullivan played three seasons for the D.C. United Women and Spirit Reserves. With the number one pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Washington selected Sullivan to return to D.C.

“[Being picked first overall] was interesting,” Sullivan said after practice on Friday. “It’s funny, you dream about being a pro your whole life and to know it’s actually happening was very cool. I wish I could have been at the draft but I was in LA. I was hanging out with Savannah McCaskill, who got picked second, so that was pretty cool because it was a similar situation. There was just so much going on but it was obviously super exciting and I was just really happy.”

Unlike most rookies, Sullivan is very familiar with the city she was drafted by. It’s the small things in life that Sullivan is most relieved about.

“I love [being back in the area],” Sullivan said. “I think it’s also made this transition into pro life a lot easier being familiar with the area and a lot of the players and the facilities and everything. And the roads even, a lot of little things that you would maybe take for granted when you’re in a new place. It just feels like I’m back at home so it’s very comforting.”

Next Up

Tomorrow’s preview will take a look at the forwards for the Spirit. This will be the final group preview before the season opener on Saturday, March 24.

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