Jordan Small and Timothy Lawson connect after four weeks since the last podcast. The two hosts cover every bit of news that has released in February, plus a couple announcements for Follow Your Spirit. Enjoy!
On Thursday morning, the 2018 NWSL Draft took place in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Headed into the draft, all the talk was surrounding Andi Sullivan and whether or not she would declare for the draft. With seven picks in the round, including the first overall pick, the Washington Spirit was paying close attention to Sullivan’s decision.
Sullivan did declare late Wednesday night and was taken with the first overall pick by the Spirit. In doing so, it brought back a local high school product to the DMV. Because of US National Team camp duties, Sullivan was not present for the draft.
“Well, I think the great thing about Andi is she’s a better person than she is a soccer player,” head coach Jim Gabarra said when speaking to reporters after the draft. “So I think it’s certainly huge for our club to add her into the group that we have and fight for time in midfield and really be one of the core members of our squad.”
The Spirit also selected Canadian international and Duke product Rebecca Quinn with the third overall pick. In the second round, Schuyler DeBree and Mallory Eubanks were selected. The third round brought two familiar Spirit Reserves faces back to the Maryland SoccerPlex. Brittany Basinger was picked at 21 and Maddie Huster, sister of current Spirit midfielder Tori Huster, with the 26th pick. To round out the selections, Rachel Moore was picked with the first pick in the fourth and final round.
Of the seven draft picks, four had played previously for the Spirit Reserves, Washington’s W-League affiliate. This continues a trend of college Reserves players being drafted by the professional team.
“It’s kind of a transition into what we hope will be at some point players who play with our [development academy] and then are “Home Grown Players” but we don’t have that rule in place now in our league. In this case we’ve got players who we have seen with our reserves team over the last 3-5 years and rather than bring a player who’s new to our club, it’s a lot easier to bring a kid in that’s been with us whether that’s for a couple summers or a summer before.”
With a majority of the picks being able to play in the midfield role, the Spirit find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at that position. Gabarra sees this as a helping point moving forward.
“We want to play with like 15 players,” Gabarra said. “We’re like all midfield. We are really deep in there and it’ll be healthy competition and it will give us the opportunity to also make sure that our rookie players are getting the chance to get used to the league without the pressure of coming in and having to be a savior or start and play in every match.”
At the draft, the Spirit Squadron showed up and was in full on chanting mode from the beginning. Sky Blue was also well represented by their supporters group, Cloud 9.
“It’s great. I think they definitely beat out their performance in Baltimore,” Gabarra said. “I think you want to credit Cloud 9 from Sky Blue for being here to kind of challenge them a bit. It’s great to see in our game that you are getting to the point where you get supporters who are singing and chanting and screaming at us from the fans.”
Preseason camp opens for the league on Feb. 19 with the season beginning on the weekend of March 24-25.
The first big move of the offseason for the Washington Spirit was announced on Wednesday afternoon. After assistant coach Denise Reddy left the Spirit to take over as the head coach of Sky Blue FC, Washington was left in need of a new first assistant to head coach Jim Gabarra. The club announced that former USWNT goalkeeper Briana Scurry will fill the role for Washington.
On top of her duties as an assistant on the full team staff, Scurry will also serve as the Techincal Advisor for the Spirit Academy programs in both Maryland and Virginia.
Scurry returns to the D.C. area after playing for the Washington Freedom from 2009-2010. She has attended numerous Spirit home games and was recognized as an Honorary Captain for the team in 2016.
“I’ve always been a loyal fan of the Washington Spirit and now I have the wonderful opportunity to truly be a part of the team,” Scurry said. “I’m excited to bring my experiences and knowledge to our players, and to contribute in an effective and positive manner to the culture of the team and organization as a whole.”
The former USWNT goalkeeper is most well known for her role in the iconic 1999 World Cup Final penalty shootout. Scurry had one save in the final that helped the team win on a Brandi Chastain kick. On top of being a World Cup champion, she also holds two Olympic gold medals from the 1996 and 2004 tournaments.
“We could not possibly be more excited and grateful to have Bri join our Spirit family,” said Spirit Head Coach and General Manager Jim Gabarra. “Bri brings an immense level of resources and experience that will help our players grow and develop. I look forward to working with her and helping her in her own personal growth and development.”
This week, the Spirit also announced this week the scheduling of two preseason matches. The first will take place on March 10 at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va. The match will feature the University of North Carolina for the second straight season.
Richmond, Va. will host it’s first ever NWSL event as the Spirit will head south to take on the North Carolina Courage. The match will take place on March 17 at City Stadium. This will be the first time the Spirit will play another NWSL team in a preseason match. Tickets for this match will go on sale Friday, December 8.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
For the first time this season, the Washington Spirit entered a match on a two-game unbeaten streak. After a 1-1 draw in Chicago, the Spirit returned home to host the 4th place Portland Thorns in front of 4,319 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. A goal in the 19th minute from Francisca Ordega would be all Washington would need to pick up three points in a 1-0 victory.
Ordega would notch her team-leading fourth goal of the year on a highlight reel play. The Nigerian international picked the pocket of Thorns midfielder Allie Long just inside the Portland side of half field. After breaking past Long, Ordega then went on to twist and turn the Thorns’ backline. Washington would get on the board as Ordega rocketed a shot past the outstretched arms of Portland goalkeeper Adriana Franch.
“Franny is extremely physical, she’s very fast, and she’s done a very good job of getting in behind the line,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game. “She’s picked up her game, her movement off the ball and her ability to press in an organized fashion. She’s been rewarded with starts and minutes and goals.”
This weekend’s goal was an extra special one for Ordega. On June 25, 2015, Ordega’s sister Elizabeth tragically passed away. Two years later, Ordega uses her sister’s memory to inspire her and continue to get better.
“I’m like, if I can play my best today and score, definitely I’m going to dedicate the goal to her. I have to do [well] so she can be proud of me and [I can] make myself happy,” Ordega said. “I keep dreaming of her, she motivated me a lot. The only thing that will make her happy, wherever she is, is just for me to be happy.”
The shutout marked the second in three games for the Spirit. Over the three-game span, the Spirit have scored three goals while allowing just one, a penalty kick to Chicago’s Christen Press. As the season hits the halfway mark, the defense for the Spirit has become much more solid.
“I think we did a very good job of team defending and understanding zones and lines,” Gabarra said. “It started last game in Chicago and I think it got a little bit better tonight. But it’s something that comes from playing together, the same group of players and getting an understanding defensively of each other.”
For the first time all season, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé had a very quiet game, something that she welcomed.
“That was awesome,” Labbé said. “I can’t even remember having to make a dive at all in that game so that was great.”
The victory also marked the return of midfielder Tori Huster, who had been sidelined for four games with a right quad injury. While she might not have mad it onto the stat sheet, the impact of Huster’s game was noticeable to those watching the game. The midfield was able to effectively shut down the star-studded Portland offense.
“I really wanted her back last game,” Gabarra said. “Chicago’s got one of the better midfields and Portland’s got probably one of the best midfields in the league. To have Tori’s experience and her bite and ball winning abilities in there was huge for us. I think she was probably not as sharp as she had been when she had been usually playing.”
Riding a three-game point streak, the Spirit will travel to Boston to take on the struggling Breakers. The match is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 1. Boston will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Wednesday of this week.
Three weeks ago, Mallory Pugh became an official member of the Washington Spirit. In that time, she has played in two games, starting in one. A couple of unanswered question remain- How has Pugh adjusted to the league? Has she saved the Spirit from a perceived downward spiral that so many had anticipated following highly publicized personnel moves during the offseason?
Considering she did not play in any official NCAA games, it’s hard to tell how she has made the transition to the professional game. From looking at her play, especially in this past weekend’s game vs. FC Kansas City, it is apparent that Pugh does not lack confidence and is not afraid to take anyone on.
“As far as kind of adjusting, it’s a whole ‘nother level,” Pugh said after the 3-2 loss to FCKC. “The ball moves faster, girls are stronger, it’s more competitive. It’s just a whole step up.”
In her first two games as a professional, she has had to go against her national team teammate, Becky Sauerbrunn. One word to sum up that experience for Pugh?
“Weird,” Pugh said. “It’s been super weird. I’m playing against Becky when we’re playing small sided or something, but not in an actual game. It’s been weird.”
After coming on as a substitute in her first professional match, Pugh got the start on the road vs. FCKC. She started out on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation, a spot head coach Jim Gabarra alluded to in Pugh’s introductory press conference. Pugh is one of the speediest young players in the league but the fastest way for her to get accustomed to NWSL play is to get game minutes with the Spirit.
“She’s very dangerous and she has good pace,” Gabarra said. “I think we need to give her some more time to get used to how we play and give her minutes in the game so that she can learn what the league is about but also learn about how we want to play.”
While this is the beginning of Pugh’s professional career, she is no stranger to the level of competition. Because of her national team experience, the high standards of this league are nothing new to Pugh.
“The national team you’re obviously representing your country, which is something very special,” Pugh said. “On the national team, you have high expectations as a team. For me here, I just have to keep myself at a high expectation and keep the standards high.”
Many people have high expectations for Pugh coming into the league. One of the biggest expectations for her coming to Washington specifically is that she will somehow save this team. As a 19-year-old with no professional experience, this is a daunting task. Two weeks in, saving the Spirit is not something Pugh can check off her list, and that’s okay. She is starting to heat up now and a goal feels very likely in the next few weeks. No matter what she does on the field, there is no saving, only helping. The Spirit will need more than just a 19-year-old wonder kid to save this season. It’s important to remember that adjusting to this level of play takes time and that’s okay for Pugh and Washington.
“It’s important that we not have too high expectations for Mallory,” Gabarra said during Pugh’s introductory press conference on May 16. “This is a long process whether it’s a 19-year-old or a 30-year-old international that hasn’t played in our league. It takes almost a year of games to really feel comfortable and to figure it out. It’s important that we let Mal enjoy the process and really be free to just learn and develop and not to say she’s coming in here to lift this team up. We have to remind ourselves that she’s 19 and we try to treat her like any other player on our roster.”
On Saturday evening, the Maryland SoccerPlex was buzzing, not because of the game between FC Kansas City and the Washington Spirit that was set to take place, but because of who was set to make her debut. Mallory Pugh earned her first professional minutes in a 1-0 loss for the Spirit.
In the 54th minute, Pugh entered the match for Arielle Ship. When Pugh stepped on the field, she became the youngest American-born player to appear in the NWSL at just 19-years-old. With US Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis in attendance for the match, Pugh played primarily as a left forward, a position she has become familiar with on the national team.
“I think that’s where she’s most comfortable and that’s where she best fits our style of play and our system,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said when talking to the media after the game. “It’s probably the easiest transition for her, rather than playing in the midfield where there’s tactically some different things that she’s got to get used to.”
Both teams had numerous chances to score throughout the game, but it was not until the 39th minute that either side broke through. Kansas City forward Sydney Leroux flicked on a ball to midfielder Alexa Newfield who buried the ball past goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. The Spirit had chances of their own but failed to deposit any of their opportunities.
“The times we attacked the flanks, which was the game plan, we created scoring chances,” Gabarra said. “I think if we get a goal out of what we created in the first 20-30 minutes, I think we walk out of here with an easy three points, but that didn’t happen. That’s kind of been the theme for three of our four home games.”
Despite the ongoing offensive struggles for the Spirit, the defense bounced back from a 6-2 defeat the week before in Seattle. This marks the third time this season that Washington has lost 1-0 at the Plex.
“Defensively we did much better limiting their chances and not really giving them any big scoring chances other than the goal obviously,” Labbé said post game. “I think with that, it’s just continuing to build on the offense. That’s where were going to win games. We need to start scoring goals. I think keep pushing towards that and building our confidence with that is where we need to go.”
The midfield saw the biggest change this week. Tori Huster was out with a quad strain and Kassey Kallman did not see action for the first time in over three years. The play of Line Sigvardsen, Meggie Dougherty Howard and Kristie Mewis did a better job of connecting between the backline and the forwards than in previous weeks.
“It was organized and I think they worked really hard, but you can’t replace Tori. I’ve said all along, when you don’t see her out there, you really have a good appreciation of how much she does,” Gabarra said. “Her mobility and winning of balls and change the point of attack was something we really missed, even though the three of them, Line and Meggie and Kristie did a very good job.”
The Spirit will travel to Kansas City next week for the second half of a home and away series with the Blues. Kickoff for next week’s matchup will be at 8 p.m. ET.
After scoring just one goal in the first three games of the season, the Washington Spirit attack opened up for four goals in a 4-3 win over Sky Blue on Saturday night. The win moved the Spirit up the table from 9th place to 7th place at the end of Saturday.
Francisca Ordega opened up the scoring for the Spirit in the 6th minute off of a pass from midfielder Line Sigvardsen. She netted her second goal of the game in the 56th minute, which would be the eventual game winner. Ordega would also add an assist on Havana Solaun’s goal in the 34th minute and force an own goal from Sky Blue.
“To see her individual effort on at least two of the goals was pretty awesome,” Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé said in the post game media scrum. “You could see that she was a big threat to them and they were having trouble dealing with her strength and her speed. It’s fun to see a player have those games and you know, it doesn’t happen all the time, but to see a player kind of on their game and just feeling it, I think it’s really fun to watch.”
Despite giving up three goals in the match, the Spirit held on to a one-goal lead for the last 20 minutes. This was in part thanks to the play of veterans Labbé and defender Estelle Johnson.
“I think the experience back there made a huge difference keeping us calm,” head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game. “Also the whole team learned a valuable lesson in the Orlando match where I think we got a little frantic, we got a little over anxious going forward and we didn’t really keep our shape and really focus on defending. I think it’s great to have an experienced player like Estelle [Johnson], who’s been through these many, many games and many situations where you’re trying to protect a one-goal lead.”
The outburst of scoring was a welcome sign, relieving some of the pressure on the backline. Labbé was proud of the performance, despite the team allowing three goals.
“It’s a big relief. I think, you know, it’s been a long time coming,” Labbé said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of work. The biggest thing is to get it at home. I think stepping out here today, we really wanted to score for our fans and give them something to cheer for and we gave them that four times today.”
The Spirit return to action next Saturday when they travel to the west coast for the first time this season to take on the Seattle Reign. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. EST. Seattle is coming off of a 2-2 tie in Portland. Soccer returns to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, May 20 as the Spirit play host to FC Kansas City.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.