Ashley HatchAubrey BledsoeFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim Gabarra

The Washington Spirit traveled to Orlando to take on the Pride in the final matchup between the two sides. In the previous two matches, the teams had split with one win a piece. The start of Saturday’s game would be delayed for nearly 40 minutes due to thunderstorms in the area.

When the game did get underway, the Spirit were under pressure early from Orlando. Just a few minutes into the match, Spirit forward Francisca Ordega and Orlando keeper Ashlyn Harris collided after going for a ball. Ordega would have to leave the match due to concussion protocol. This seemed to spark the Spirit a bit as they began to turn on the offense. In the 26th minute, forward Ashley Hatch scored her team-leading fourth goal of the year.

Pride forward Sydney Leroux would tie the game up just before the half and Marta scored in the 86th minute to win it for Orlando. The Spirit have now gone seven games without a win, picking up just two points in that stretch.

Ashley Hatch Breaks Scoreless Drought

After being shut out for 476 minutes, the Spirit finally found the back of the net. In the 26th minute, Ashley Hatch headed home Whitney Church’s corner kick. It took a load off the team’s back and nothing showed that more than goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe running more than half the field to join the team in celebration.

“It’s been a bit since we scored so just excited to get that first goal and to be up here in this stadium, against this team, it was just a lot of excitement,” Bledsoe said. “I wanted to be apart of the celebration so I made a break for it.”

Despite Early Sub, Spirit Kept Pressure Up

Often times this season, Washington has had the tendency to sit back and watch. This has resulted in lazy play and poor results. While at times they did revert to that style on Saturday evening, the front line especially put pressure on Orlando’s backline.

“No, it needs to change,” Gabarra said. “I got into them a bit at halftime in Chicago and they came out and played great in the second half. It was like why do we need to go down a goal or why do we need to start poorly. We need to start that way every game. I think it’s just something we talked about over the week and they executed it.”

The pressure came from Ashley Hatch, who was forced to play a different role early with Francisca Ordega being subbed out. After Hatch scored her goal, she was like a bull in a china shop.

“For her individually, she got a lot of confidence by getting the goal and she was rewarded for all of, she does so much work off the ball,” Gabarra said. “I think it was just she looked more dangerous and more confident tonight. That’s hard to get out of an attacking player or a goal scorer when they’re not scoring goals because they naturally feel like they’re not doing their job.”

Aubrey Bledsoe Comes Up With Big Saves in Return to Orlando

During the offseason, the Washington Spirit traded defender Shelina Zadorsky to Orlando in exchange for goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Saturday’s match was Bledsoe’s first in Orlando since joining the Spirit. In the loss, she made ten saves.

“It meant something more just coming back here,” Bledsoe said after the match. “I love Orlando, it will always be home to me. There are still a lot of people here that I care about. I had a lot of friends and family in the stands today. Even the Pride supporters, I know they are still rooting for me and want the best for me so that just means a lot. It’s great to be back and see old friends and just be a part of everything here.

Next Up

The Spirit have a quick turnaround as they travel to North Carolina to take on the Courage on Wednesday. Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Aubrey BledsoeCaprice DydascoEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageGame PreviewJim GabarraRebecca QuinnTaylor SmithWhitney Church

After a midweek win against Sky Blue at home, the Washington Spirit will head to Houston to take on the Dash. The Spirit will have a chance to move within four points of a playoff spot.

Kick-Off

8:00 PM ET on Sunday, May 27, 2018

Location

BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas

Projected Starting Lineup

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

Noteworthy

With this being the third game in eight days for Washington, it is possible that the Spirit will have a very different looking lineup against the Dash. Head coach Jim Gabarra had mentioned after the Sky Blue game that the defense could see some different looks to get some players rest, specifically the outside backs of Caprice Dydasco and Taylor Smith. However, with the Spirit in dire need of points, Washington could go with a similar lineup as what was seen on Wednesday night.

Injuries

OUT: Cali Farquharson (left tibial stress injury – D45), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)

QUESTIONABLE: None

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Key to Victory

Stay Compact. The Spirit have done a good job of staying compact along the back line in the past three games. In those three games, they have only allowed two goals, with one coming off of a free kick. Taylor Smith and Caprice Dydasco have settled into their roles at outside back and have found the balance between attacking and defending. The center backs of Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn, and Estelle Johnson have done well despite rotation due to injuries. If goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe can keep the backline in check in front of her, the Spirit could go on a run here at a time where they desperately need points.

Stream

Go90.com

Twitter

Follow @spiritcoverage and @jols98 for game updates and to keep your timeline to date with our Washington Spirit coverage on Twitter.

Ashley HatchAubrey BledsoeCaprice DydascoEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraMallory PughRebecca QuinnRose LavelleTaylor SmithWhitney Church

Last season, the Washington Spirit went 3-0 against Sky Blue FC. So with the Spirit desperately needing a win to help their season, a winless Sky Blue came to town. The Spirit turned in one of the better overall performances from the squad this season and picked up a 1-0 win on Wednesday night.

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

Both teams were unable to break the deadlock in the first half with each team having shots go off the woodwork. Coming out of the locker room, Spirit forward Ashley Hatch was firing on all cylinders. She would finally put one home in the 64th minute, proving to be the difference for Washington.

Defense Comes Up Big

In the past three games, the Spirit defense has allowed just two goals with one coming off of a free kick. Rebecca Quinn and Whitney Church’s partnership was proving to be a positive one and when Estelle Johnson came back into the lineup on Wednesday night for Quinn, the transition was seamless. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe picked up her second shutout as a member of the Spirit in the 1-0 victory.

I think Aubrey has certainly stepped up in these past couple games and she hasn’t been making that one or two big mistakes that create a good chance or goal for the other team,” head coach Jim Gabarra said.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Aubrey Bledsoe was awarded the Spirit Squadron’s player of the match trophy following her shutout.

One of the biggest keys to the new found confidence of the backline was the decision to switch up which side the center backs were playing on. When Johnson was out because of injury, Quinn stepped in to play at center back. At that time, the Spirit played her at right center back alongside of Taylor Smith, while Church would be on the left with Caprice Dydasco. With Johnson returning, she slid into the right center back role to keep Church on the left.

“We wanted to put [Quinn] on the side with Taylor,” Gabarra said. “Then when we bring Estelle back in, you’re basically making two changes rather than one so we put Estelle [on the right side]. Estelle is more comfortable on the right anyways so it might stay that way. I think the important thing is the relationship between Whit and Estelle is very good and [Quinn] and Estelle have a good relationship with Taylor and Estelle and Whit have  a good relationship with [Dydasco]. Then that translates up to Tori and [Quinn] or Andi in the six role.”

Andi Sullivan Picks Up First Career Point

Mallory Pugh drew a foul in the attacking third for Washington roughly 63 minutes into the game. With it being too far out for a shot on goal, midfielder Andi Sullivan stepped up to take the kick. Sullivan played a well weighted ball towards the back post and found the head of Ashley Hatch. Hatch’s header would be good enough for the only goal of the game. With the assist, Sullivan picked up her first career professional point.

“Whit has been putting in some great services and I don’t know, for some reason I just felt inclined to take it and she let me which was great,” Sullivan said. “Then it was a little far out and we wanted to test their keeper but it was a little far and Mal looked at me and said serve it and I said ok. I think I like that service, like the back post bent service and Hatch is great in the air so I just looked to kind of hit it to that back six. It was one of those that as soon as it hit her head, I knew it was going in. So it was awesome, she is so good at that finish so I just wanted to serve it up to her.”

The goal was the first scored by the Spirit since April 28, a 1-1 draw vs. the Chicago. Hatch now has two goals on the year for Washington.

Mal did a good job of drawing the foul and Andi set up and I just wanted to start wide and run in on it,” Hatch said. “Andi put a perfect flighted ball and it was easy just to run in on it and tap it in.”

Rose Lavelle Makes Her Spirit Debut

Spirit midfielder Rose Lavelle made her Spirit debut on Wednesday night, coming in for Estefania Banini in the 74th minute. Lavelle picked up her first NWSL minutes after having not played due to a hamstring injury since August of 2017. Her fresh legs helped the Spirit, who are playing three games in eight days.

“It felt really good,” Lavelle said. “I was really nervous going in because obviously I haven’t played in a about a lifetime. So I was really nervous but it’s the same game as before I got hurt. I just had to calm down and let my nerves settle and just enjoy the moment.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Rose Lavelle warms up prior to her first game action with the Washington Spirit.

Next Up

Washington now heads to Houston on Sunday to take on the Dash. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. Houston sits just two points ahead of the Spirit and sit in 7th place.

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.

Aubrey BledsoeCaprice DydascoGame Day CoverageJim GabarraMallory Pugh

The Washington Spirit welcomed the North Carolina Courage to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday evening. In their first matchup of the regular season, the Spirit (1-2-0) fell to the visiting Courage (3-0-0) 4-2.

Washington opened up the scoring in the third minute off of a goal from Mallory Pugh. The Courage tied it up in the 20 minute on Crystal Dunn’s first career goal with North Carolina. Just four minutes later, a free kick goal from McCall Zerboni put the visitors ahead. Another goal from Zerboni and one more from Lynn Williams in the second half ultimately sank the Spirit. Despite a goal from Francisca Ordega in the 58 minute, a comeback just was not in the cards for the Spirit.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Johnson, Dydasco; Pugh, Sullivan, Lohman; Eubanks, Hatch, Ordega

Set Play Goals Sink the Spirit

Of the four goals the Spirit gave up on Saturday night, two came off of set plays. The first goal from McCall Zerboni was off a free kick from just around 20 yards out. The free kick came from a mistake by Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who played the ball with her hands outside of the 18 yard box. Another mistake came in the wall placement and Zerboni was able to slip the ball around and into the back of the net.

The second goal for Zerboni came off of a corner kick. North Carolina moved the ball around well off of the corner and the Spirit failed to clear. The ball eventually was played across the six yard box and found a wide open Zerboni at the back post.

“I mean this is one of the best teams in our game on set plays and that was certainly a goal to not concede on a set play,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “But the first one, the wall was 15 yards away and it’s a bad mistake by our goalkeeper to give away a free kick there. So that could have been prevented by not giving them a free kick. If you get a properly set wall, maybe we get to block it. The other corner, that’s a mistake defensively, letting the player turn and drive the ball across the six.”

Partnership Forming On Left Side

While the Spirit have many new faces on the field, one partnership that is in full bloom is the one between Mallory Pugh and Caprice Dydasco. With Pugh playing in the midfield this week, the partnership was really highlighted.

In the first half, this combo was tearing up the North Carolina defense. However, it wasn’t until about halfway through the second half that the duo got going again. If they can continue the play, it’ll be a headache for the NWSL defenders going forward.

“Whoever you put out there with Caprice, Caprice finds a way to blend in and work well with whoever is out there,” Gabarra said. “I think with Mal out there, Mal is a similar case. It’s pretty easy to play with her, she’s such a good player. As we develop, we like to see those relationships throughout the group.”

Mallory Pugh Leaves Game With Injury

Spirit forward Mallory Pugh left the match in the 75 minute after pulling up because of an injury. While it is unknown what the injury is exactly, it appears to be on the right leg of Pugh. After exiting the game, Pugh was sporting an ice pack on her lower knee and upper shin area. She will be further evaluated this week.

Next Up

The Spirit will head out to the west coast for their next match. Washington will travel to Providence Park to face the Portland Thorns on Friday, April 20. Kick-off for that match will be at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Ashley HatchAubrey BledsoeGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna LohmanMallory Pugh

After nine months of waiting, Washington Spirit fans finally saw their team win at the Maryland SoccerPlex. In the home opener, the Spirit (1-1-0) took down the visiting Orlando Pride (0-1-1) 2-0.

It was all even at zero before Mallory Pugh broke the scoring in the 80th minute. Just eight minutes later, Ashley Hatch sealed the victory with her first goal as a member of the Washington Spirit. Aubrey Bledsoe picked up her first win and shutout in her Spirit home debut.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Rebecca Quinn, Andi Sullivan, Havana Solaun; Francisca Ordega, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh

Defense Stands Strong

With Rebecca Quinn getting her visa issues worked out, it appeared as if she would slide into the backline to replace Whitney Church. Instead, head coach Jim Gabarra put her in the midfield, leaving the backline intact from last weekend.

After struggling to contain Megan Rapinoe and the offense of the Seattle Reign in the opener, Washington did a much better job this week of sealing those holes and not allowing much through. This led to goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe making four stops in route to a clean sheet.

“Well, I was really happy with the whole backline and the whole group in its entirety,” Gabarra said. “I think they grew into the game and they got better and started forging some of those relationships. Most importantly I think we weren’t giving up a tremendous number of chances so that’s always pleasing.”

Spirit Offense Steps Up Late

In the 80th minute, Mallory Pugh burst past the backline of Orlando before slotting the ball home through the legs of Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Just eight minutes later, Ashley Hatch scored her first goal for the Spirit. Both ended up being huge goals in picking up three points for the Spirit.

The Spirit racked up three shots on goal, all coming in the second half. The first half was full of opportunities, but the final pass was just off in most situations. That all changed when Pugh picked up the ball just over half field. She outran Krieger, twisted Shelina Zadorsky around, and ended up beating Harris with a low ground ball. Hatch’s goal was a combination of a lot of hard work from Mallory Eubanks, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Pugh. That now is three goals in two games for Washington.

“I think I just saw that I had time and space,” Pugh said. “Estelle always says to shoot the ball. So yeah, I just took my opportunity. I wanted to keep it low and thankful it went in.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Mallory Pugh celebrates with her teammates after scoring the game-winning goal.

“You know, Jo just kind of laid it off perfectly,” Hatch said. “I saw an open goal so I just tried to hit it as hard as I can so it went in.”

Tori Huster Honored in Pre-Game

Prior to the game, midfielder Tori Huster was honored with a commemorative jersey for reaching the 100 caps mark. The jersey was presented to Huster by Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch. Huster reached the milestone game against the Seattle Reign last weekend. She is the only remaining player on the roster from the inaugural season of the Spirit.

Next Up

The NWSL will now go on a break with a FIFA break approaching. The United States National Team will be in action on Thursday, April 5 and Sunday, April 8 when they take on Mexico.

Following the completion of the FIFA break, the Spirit will return home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the North Carolina Courage. The Spirit will host the Courage on April 14 with kickoff coming at 7 p.m.

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.”