Breaking NewsBriana ScurryJim Gabarra

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.

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.

Francisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie LabbeTori Huster

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.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kallman; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Mewis; Williams, Ordega, Solaun

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.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
The Spirit celebrate after Ordega’s goal in the 19th minute.

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.

Jim GabarraMallory Pugh

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.”

Jordan Small | Follow Your Spirit

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.”

Jordan Small | Follow Your Spirit

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.”

Arielle ShipGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKristie MewisLine Sigvardsen JensenMallory PughMeggie Dougherty HowardStephanie Labbe

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.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kleiner; Dougherty Howard, Sigvardsen, Mewis; Williams, Ordega, Ship

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.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Shelina Zadorsky covers FCKC forward Sydney Leroux in the second half.

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.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Meggie Dougherty Howard fights for the ball against FCKC’s Becca Moros.

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.

Francisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie Labbe

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.

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

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.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Ordega celebrates with her teammates after one of her two goals on the evening.

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.”

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Labbé punches the ball over the bar late in the game to preserve the 4-3 win over Sky Blue.

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.

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.

 

Game Day CoverageHavana SolaunJim GabarraLindsay AgnewLine Sigvardsen JensenStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit picked up their first point of the season after they played the Orlando Pride to a 1-1 draw. The match was the first ever Pride match at the new Orlando City Stadium.

Line Sigvardsen Jensen opened up the scoring in the 60th minute off of a corner kick from Shelina Zadorsky. The original corner kick was punched away by Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, but the rebound fell to the head of Sigvardsen Jensen just past the penalty spot. The lofted header was the first NWSL goal in her career.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
The Spirit celebrate after Sigvardsen Jensen’s goal in the 60th minute.

 

The Pride would get the goal back in the 86th minute when rookie Danica Evans slipped through the Spirit defense and around goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the equalizer. After a solid game as a backline, the Spirit could not control a late game Pride attack.
Labbé had a lighter workload this week as she was forced to make only five saves. Her biggest play of the evening came when she closed out Brazilian midfielder Marta, who was making her NWSL debut. Labbé’s effort caused Brazilian to shoot the potential game-winner just wide of the net.

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

The Spirit offense created more chances against the Pride, registering six shots on goal. Much of the offensive improvement came from the play of Havana Solaun and rookie Lindsay Agnew. Solaun made her first start of the year and Agnew made her professional debut coming on in the 19th minute after forward Katie Stengel went down with an injury. Agnew’s substitution marked the third the third injury substitution head coach Jim Gabarra has been forced in a little over 119 minutes of play. Despite the injury bug, Gabarra was upbeat about the team’s effort.

“It was a better performance than our first match, so it’s a step in the right direction,” Gabarra said.

Washington will be back in action on Saturday, April 29 as they host the Houston Dash at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Dash are coming off of a 5-1 defeat on the road in Seattle. US national team goalkeeper Jane Campbell made her professional debut for the Dash in the loss. Kickoff for the April 29th matchup is set for 7 p.m.

Cheyna WilliamsJim GabarraJoanna LohmanKatie StengelStephanie LabbeTori Huster

Opening weekend of the 5th NWSL season did not go the way the Washington Spirit had planned. Two starters left the game before halftime with injuries and the team would end up losing to the North Carolina Courage 1-0 after being heavily outshot.

Just 19 minutes into the game, Joanna Lohman was forced to come off the field because of an injury. Lohman fell to the pitch in pain after attempting to continue playing despite injuring her knee minutes earlier. With Lohman down, the Courage took advantage of the situation. McCall Zerboni was able to get on the end of a Makenzy Doniak cross to put the visitors up 1-0. Things would go from bad to worse for the Spirit in the 38th minute. While attempting to block a cross, Cheyna Williams took a ball off her foot and ankle that would eventually lead to her being subbed off.

“Injuries happen. Certainly, in the first half it makes it difficult with your substitution pattern,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “So we were kind of behind the eight ball having to make two subs.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Caprice Dydasco, Cheyna Williams, and Joanna Lohman sit on the sidelines during the game.

The Spirit struggled to connect passes and keep possession in the first half, but showed signs of improvement in the second half, ending the game with a 53-46 percent possession advantage. Despite the possession advantage, North Carolina won the battle in the midfield using their diamond shape to disrupt the Spirit attack. Washington only managed 3 shots in the game, none of which were on frame, while the Courage picked up 21 total shots with 9 of those coming on net.

“[The Courage] were playing with a diamond in the midfield so they were overloaded and they were able to push us to one side and then find their extra person on the other side of the field pretty easily,” Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said. “We can’t make it that easy for them to switch the field. I think being so disjointed didn’t help our attack either. We weren’t close enough to each other to get something going forward. Being the playmakers in the midfield, we’ve got to get on the ball and help things going forward with our forwards.”

The best chance for the Spirit came in the 63rd minute when Huster played a through ball to Katie Stengel. Stengel rounded Courage goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, but her shot attempt went wide right.

“It’s a little discouraging,” Huster said. “I think there was one play where Stengel would want that one back, usually she’s right on it. It just was an unfortunate day today, a little bit unlucky with that.”

The lone bright spot for the Spirit was the play of goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. Labbé had multiple highlight reel saves, racking up eight total saves on the afternoon.

“I think we left her out to dry way too many times,” Gabarra said. “To only concede one goal, I think that says a lot about her performance as a shot stopper and that’s something we knew was there. Overall, I thought she saved us on numerous occasions.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Labbé makes a save against the Courage on April 14.

The Spirit will be back in action on April 22 as they head to Orlando to face off against the Pride. Orlando is also coming off an opening weekend loss as they fell 2-0 to the Thorns in Portland on Saturday night. The Spirit vs. Pride game will be available on Lifetime as part of the NWSL Game of the Week. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET.