Alyssa KleinerCali FarquharsonEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKassey KallmanStephanie Labbe

On Saturday afternoon, the league-leading North Carolina Courage played host to the visiting Washington Spirit. The Courage came away with all three points in a 2-0 victory in front of 3530 fans at the WakeMed Soccer Park.

After the first 10 minutes of the match, the Washington Spirit took control of the game. The Spirit’s backline of Estelle Johnson, Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman and Caprice Dydasco was able to limit the strong attack of the Courage to just one shot on goal in the first half. However, to start the second half, Estelle Johnson was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner because of an illness.

“She felt sick to her stomach, like she was going to throw up,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “It was probably 20 minutes in. We checked her at the water break and wanted to get her through halftime. At halftime, we didn’t want to put her out there in a depleted situation where she was dehydrated and didn’t feel good.”

When the second half kicked off, the Courage came out fired up. Within the first minute, the ball was played out wide to Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton played the ball across the box and after multiple missed clearances by the Washington defense, forward Ashley Hatch slotted her shot past Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé to give the Courage a 1-0 lead.

“The first one was right off the kickoff. It felt like they were dribbling and the seas kind of opened. No one was really stepping to put pressure on it and we were a bit passive and on our heels a bit on that,” Labbé said. “It’s just a quick reminder that coming out in the second half, just because the first half went well, you have to put in the hard work at the beginning of the second half to make sure you’re up at that level again.”

In the 84th minute, the Spirit put themselves in an even deeper hole with an own goal. North Carolina’s Sam Mewis played in a corner kick that bounced around in the box with multiple failed clearances by the Spirit. A clearance off the line from Cali Farquharson deflected off the face of Kallman before finding the back of the net.

Prior to the game, the Spirit announced that midfielder Kristie Mewis would be unavailable for the match because of an upcoming trade. It appears as if the trade will be announced on Monday.

“We’re in a situation where we have some extra depth and if we can get some good value for players maybe moving to a team that’s got something to play for to get into the playoffs and get a piece or a draft pick for the future that’s going to help us next year,” Gabarra said after the game. “Yeah, we’re not giving up on this year and looking towards next year but at the same time, you have to take advantage of the assets you have and if someone is interested in a player and they come to us, we’re going to consider it.”

Washington returns to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, August 26 to take on the Chicago Red Stars. For that match, Francisca Ordega and Kelsey Wys could be off the 45-day disabled list, according to Gabarra. Kickoff for the match is 7 p.m.

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.

Estelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit traveled to Texas to face the Houston Dash on Saturday night. Houston scored in the 24th and 54th minutes to take a 2-0 over the Spirit. The Spirit cut the lead in half in the 75th minute, but it would be too little, too late for Washington as they began their four game road trip with a 2-1 loss to Houston.

While the Spirit outshot Houston, rookie goalkeeper Jane Campbell came up big for the Dash in net. Her eight-save performance was the difference maker in the hard fought match. The goalkeepers were the story of the match with Stephanie Labbé racking up six saves of her own. Both goalkeepers had huge saves in the first half to keep their teams in the game.

Houston opened the scoring in the 24th minute off of a corner kick. Canadian international Janine Beckie whipped in a cross that was flicked on net by the head of Brazilian Poliana. Poliana’s header spun hard off the wet grass and past a diving Labbé. The Dash would double their lead in the 54th minute when Andressinha fired a rocket off of a pass from Rachel Daly.

In the 75th minute, the Spirit would get one back from an unlikely goal scorer. Defender Estelle Johnson snuck a shot near post on Campbell for her first goal of the year. After making a run across the box, Havana Solaun played a ball in for Johnson who caught Campbell leaning.

Overall, the game was a disappointing one for the Spirit. In desperate need of three points, Washington looked disjointed for much of the match, struggling to string together passes. When they would get into the final third, a lackluster effort resulted in many shots going right to Campbell for fairly easy saves.

The Spirit continue their four game road trip next weekend as they travel to Providence Park to take on the Portland Thorns. Washington is 0-4-2 on the road this season while Portland is 5-1-1 at home. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET.

Estelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie LabbeUncategorized

For the second time in the past three matches, the Spirit lost 1-0. Kealia Ohai put the Houston Dash ahead in the 28th minute, a lead they would never relinquish. A strong performance from the Dash defense and a less than stellar showing from the Spirit attack resulted in Washington falling at home once again.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky; Kleiner, Huster, Solaun, Sigvardsen, Kallman; Ordega, Agnew

Coming into the match, the Spirit dressed only 16 players because of a growing list of injuries. Lindsay Agnew made her first career start up top with Francisca Ordega, one of many areas where head coach Jim Gabarra felt unfamiliarity hurt his side.

“It’s probably a lot of players it’s their first time playing in a league match, it’s their first time in a starting role,” Gabarra said in the post-game media scrum. “I mean we had [Ordega] and [Agnew] playing together, they never played together. [Solaun] was playing in the attacking midfield role, she hasn’t played that much in there.”

Saturday’s match marked the first time this season that the Spirit did not have to make a sub because of injury in the first half. This came as a relief for Gabarra.

“It was wonderful. I wanted to have four [subs] so I could get Cam [Castleberry] in there but you only have three,” Gabarra said. “I think we’ve turned the corner, knock on wood.”

While the offensive side of the ball was not connecting in the final third, the play of the defense and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé was a positive takeaway from the match. The Spirit have conceded just three goals this season over three games.

“I think our defending and our goalkeeping has been very good all three games,” Gabarra said. “That’s been a real good constant for us.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Stephanie Labbé during the first half of the match vs. the Houston Dash.

The play of Labbé has kept the Spirit in all three games this season. She is second in the league with 17 saves on 20 shots. Despite the heavier workload, Labbé has embraced her role on the team.

“Unfortunately I’m getting more shots than I hope and having to make more saves than I want,” Labbé said after the game. “But that’s a part of the game and if that’s my role this year, I’ve said it before, I’m ready to take that on.”

Another player that has stepped up for the Spirit in recent weeks is defender Estelle Johnson. She has played as an outside back in the three back system, often drawing the assignment of the opposing team’s best forwards. Johnson has been forced to relearn the outside back position after not seeing time there in a quite a while.

 

“It’s so different. I have to revert back to freshman year of college, the one year I ever played outside back,” Johnson said when addressing the media after the game. “I played it in Philly in the WPS for like half a season. It’s just learning the game. I know what I should do but my body does different things sometimes. I think just staying focused and being prepared for the game will help.”

 

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Estelle Johnson in the first half vs. the Houston Dash.

Despite having one of the stingiest defenses in the league, the Spirit have struggled to pick up points because of a lack of scoring. This is something the team is looking to improve on before welcoming Sky Blue to town next weekend. Sky Blue and Washington will face off at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, May 6. The match, which was originally scheduled for 4 p.m., has been rescheduled to 7 p.m.

 

Estelle JohnsonPlayer Previews

As the 2017 NWSL season approaches, we will be rolling out profiles on the 2017 Washington Spirit roster.

Name: Estelle Johnson

Hometown: Fort Collins, CO

Position: Defense

College: The University of Kansas

Johnson prior to the game vs. Chicago on July 9, 2016.
Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Last season: Estelle Johnson started in 11 matches for the Spirit in 2016. The centerback was in and out of the lineup as head coach Jim Gabarra switched up the center of the defense often in the second half of the season. Johnson did not play in either playoff game.

2017 season: Johnson and Shelina Zadorsky are the likely pair to start in the center on opening day for the Spirit. With the trades of Ali Krieger and Megan Oyster, the centerback pairings should see less rotation than last year. Johnson and Zadorsky give both a combination of height and speed that will be good for the Spirit. Johnson and Zadorsky will have the responsibility of holding together the backline as they are returning to their natural positions.

Christine NairnEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey WysTori Huster

After a disappointing loss to Sky Blue at home last week, the Spirit welcomed the defending NWSL champions FC Kansas City to town on Saturday nigh. The Spirit rebounded with two goals late in the game to snag three points from KC in a 2-0 win. Forward Francisca Ordega and midfielder Tori Huster both got on the scoresheet with a goal each.

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

The first half was fairly even from both sides, with neither team getting a really good chance on goal. Both teams used the first half as an adjustment period as many players were seeing their first minutes of the season.

For the Spirit, Estelle Johnson made her season debut at center back, while Caprice Dydasco made her second start of the season at outside back. In just her second game of the year, goalkeeper Kelsey Wys picked up her first win and posted her first shutout.

“I think Caprice, Estelle, everyone else who got a chance tonight did a great job. Just credit to the team as a whole,” Wys said. “We’ve worked on communication and being organized all week and being on the same page. I think we did the little things tonight we need to do in order to get the W.”

After coming on as a sub at halftime, Ordega quickly made her presence known. The Nigerian international used her speed to get at the back line of Kansas City. The Ordega substitution would prove to be a wise one in the 79th minute. After a scramble in the box, and many bodies on the ground, Ordega picked up a bouncing ball and tucked home the go-ahead goal past FCKC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

Just over five minutes later, Huster rocketed a rebound off of Christine Nairn’s corner kick to double the lead for the Spirit. The initial shot from Joanna Lohman was saved by Barnhart, but the rebound bounced back out into the box. The goal was Huster’s first since April 26, 2014 in a 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars.

“Definitely more often with my head do I score that than with my foot, but we were able to keep the ball alive,” Huster said. “Luckily it just popped right out to me and I tried to keep it high so that it was hard for anyone to clear it off the line or something like that.”

Lohman (left) and Huster (right) go up for a header that would ultimately lead to Huster's goal
Lohman (left) and Huster (right) go up for a header that would ultimately lead to Huster’s goal

After what head coach Jim Gabarra called a flat week against Sky Blue, the Spirit showed a bit more life against FCKC. While it took 79 minutes to finally break onto the scoresheet, the team looked dangerous in the attack in the second half. Despite missing three of the back five for the Spirit due to national team commitments, the defense was able to come together for its sixth shutout of the year.

“I think there was good energy, we were a lot more organized and we played more as a group,” Gabarra said. “With the previous match, it seemed like individuals and reacting instead of the typical movement that we’ve had.”

Next up, the Spirit will welcome the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, July 9 to the Maryland SoccerPlex for the first matchup of the season. The game will be the final game of a four game homestand for the Spirit. Chicago, who currently sits in fourth place, will be looking to end its two game losing streak. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Estelle JohnsonJim Gabarra

Estelle Johnson

Estelle Johnson is today’s guest on #FollowYourSpirit!

The podcast begins with some post-game audio from the 1-1 draw in Boston. Coach Beard talks about matching up against the Spirit and Coach Gabarra reflects on how his team played.

Then, we hear from Estelle Johnson. She has not played a minute for the Spirit yet this season, but she is more than ready. Estelle talks with Tim about her life in soccer, preparing to play, her chemistry with the team, and more.

Also, learn which Spirit Squadron chants are her favorite.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter and let us know if you enjoyed the podcast.

@EstelleJohnson (Guest)

@TimLawson21 (Host)

@SpiritCoverage (Official Account)

@LawsonEntertain (Production)

Estelle Johnson
Estelle is happy you’re checking out Follow Your Spirit