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.

Francisca OrdegaJoanna LohmanKatie StengelStephanie Labbe

The 2017 NWSL season is upon us and we couldn’t be more excited. The Spirit are coming of a heartbreaking 2016 season that ended with a loss in PKs at the NWSL Championship. After a lot of turnover, the Spirit are ready to prove themselves worthy of another chance at the title.

The video above and the podcast below go over Timothy Lawson’s “5 Bold Predictions” for the 2017 season. He went 1 for 5 last year and is hoping to do at least one better. Check out his predictions and let us know on Twitter which ones you think are too bold and which ones are achievable (@SpiritCoverage).

Joanna LohmanPlayer Previews

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

Name: Joanna Lohman

Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland

Position: Midfield

College: Penn State University

Lohman vs. Sky Blue on July 31, 2016. Photo credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Last season: Joanna Lohman scored four goals in 20 games played last season. No goal was bigger than her bicycle kick goal against Boston Breakers to open up the historic 4th season of the NWSL. Lohman’s four goals were second most on the team in 2016. Alongside Tori Huster and Christine Nairn, Lohman helped the Spirit midfield become one of the top units in the league.

2017 season: Lohman will be one of the few returning players to the Spirit’s attack in the 2017 season. With the departures of Nairn and Canadian international Diana Matheson, Lohman and Huster will be tasked with leading the midfield this season. Expect Lohman to bring intensity and grit to the midfield, two intangibles that will not show up on the stats sheet, but will have a positive impact on the team.

Joanna Lohman

As the players walk out onto the field at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Maryland, one player stands out in the Washington Spirit lineup. Joanna Lohman, a 34-year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland, and her famous “Jo Hawk” are a popular sight for women’s soccer fans around the globe.

Over her 10 year professional career, Lohman has traveled all over the world, spreading her knowledge and love of soccer to communities throughout the globe. Working with the State Department and the U.S. Soccer sports envoy program, Lohman has traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Thailand to conduct soccer clinics with the local youth.

After speaking at a summer program through the foreign service institute at the State Department, Lohman was contacted by a woman who offered her a chance to go to Botswana, a small country in Africa, for her next program.

“You can’t really say that to someone like me without me showing up at your front door,” Lohman said. “That was really a part of the world I really wanted to explore. I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa. So after she said that to me, I said alright, let’s see if we can do this. We kept in contact, she spoke to the ambassador when she went over to Botswana and they put together a program. That’s kind of how it came about.”
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Lohman and her friend Charlotte Mace left for Botswana in early November. The first stop on the trip was to a northern part of Botswana in a city called Maun. Lohman ran a clinic for about 15 girls in the local community. They were given the best turf field in Maun to train on and played for roughly five and a half hours in the 100 degree weather.

“These girls had no shoes, no sports bras,” Lohman said. “I was shocked, honestly. Maybe I was a bit naive, but I thought they would at least have something on their feet. It was very eye opening for me to see their humble backgrounds. But still, they are passionate for the game and they are passionate to learn.”

The second clinic was held in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. This camp was held at the Lekidi Center, which is where the Botswana national team trains. Here, the U.S. ambassador, UNICEF and the minister of Youth, Sport and Culture came and even participated in a pickup game.

“It was a very fulfilling experience for me,” Lohman said. “It was great because for once, the whole community came out to support these young women. I think that never happens for them and they were given a day and a chance to feel special. These are young girls that never get to leave their village, so they are taking a bus to the Lekidi Center, which is the national training center. Their parents get the chance to be proud of them doing something that is quite remarkable.”

Mace, who had traveled with Lohman to both Argentina and Thailand, said that Lohman is such a bright spot in the lives of these young girls. Despite only spending a short time with the girls, Lohman is able to spread her love for the game to these girls.

“She might only see them for a day, but during that short time she gives them her undivided attention,” Mace wrote in an email. “She makes them laugh and have fun, but at the same time she pushes them to try things they might not have done otherwise.  She believes in them and this helps the girls to believe in themselves more.  This is especially important in cultures where young girls are often overlooked.”

While in these countries, it gives a perspective on how lucky females really are in the United States, Lohman said. In these countries, women are not given the same chances that are given to women in more developed countries.

“I think it really gives me a strong appreciation for the life that I lead and also I feel a strong responsibility to give back to a sport that’s provided me so much,” Lohman said. “I think that I’ve been able to really learn a lot of lessons sport teaches that a lot of these girls have not been able to learn; they don’t have the same opportunities. For us to have so much support in the United States, it’s so unique and it’s not until you leave this country that you realize how much we are given.”

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When Lohman is not traveling to these countries to spread the power of sport, she is training as a professional women’s soccer player. A key piece to the midfield that helped the Washington Spirit finish second in the National Women’s Soccer League, Lohman is enjoying her job every day.

“I really don’t feel like it’s my job, I feel like it’s a vocation,” Lohman said. “I feel like I was put on this earth to play soccer. I think that I am so lucky that in my day job, people love me for 100 percent who I am. I can be a gay professional female athlete and people adore you for it. That comes around once in a lifetime.”

Women’s soccer is a special sport because of the access that fans are given to the players. One of the main ways players are able to connect with their fans is through social media. Lohman is one of the most active players in the league on Twitter and feels this is important to the growth of the league.

“I think that a women’s soccer fan has been through some sort of adversity, has been ostracized in some way and is really looking for a way to connect with and to belong to something and I think women’s soccer gives them that,” Lohman said. “So if we can really keep igniting that fire they have, it can only serve multitudes of benefits for the league because you are giving the fan access to the game and you are giving them access to something that makes them feel great about themselves.”

 

When looking at the Washington Spirit roster, the “Jo Hawk” is something that sticks out to the eye. Lohman’s famous hair style began the offseason before joining the Spirit. A trip to Las Vegas inspired the now fan-favorite hairstyle.

“After my two seasons in Boston, when I came home in that offseason, I had planned a trip to Las Vegas so I kind of went a little wild for that,” Lohman said. “Ever since then, it’s taken on a mind of its own and a life of its own. The fans love it so I try to always keep it fresh for them. It’s just like my inner Jo on the outside.”

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Crystal DunnJoanna LohmanKelsey WysStephanie Labbe

Coach Gabarra

The second episode this week features Monica Esenwein from Backline Soccer.

Monica and I have been sharing a media table at Spirit home games all season and have gotten to know each other pretty well during that period. Her colleagues at Backline Soccer have been very kind to have me on their programming and I thought it was only fitting to have her on mine.

The first half of this episode is about the win on Wednesday night against the Reign, the potential playoff match-up, and how we feel about the Spirit overall.

The second half addresses the national anthem controversy from the same game. I served in the military and Monica comes from a military family, so we both had plenty to say about the situation.

If you’re not interested in more national anthem banter, don’t worry, the first 25 minutes is all about the Spirit. Please, take the time to listen to that, because that’s what is most important right now.

Follow our guest on Twitter @Monz59

Joanna Lohman

Joanna Lohman

Joanna Lohman is a popular player in women’s soccer. One of the things she’s most well-known for is her hair designs.

When Joanna was on the podcast, she agreed to let me choose a design for the game on July 2nd – which happens to be my birthday. I chose three options and let the fans decide. American flag was the winner.

Joanna was unable to get in to her barber in time for the 7/2 match, so she got it set up for the 7/30 match and invited me to come hang out with her to see her barber in action.

Drew, her barber, was worried the American flag would require too much detail, so Joanna chose different design.

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna Lohman

All that stood between the Spirit and the Olympic break was a re-match with Sky Blue on Saturday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Mother Nature had other plans however, with a severe thunderstorm rolling into Maryland on Saturday evening around game time. The storm was too much to handle, forcing the game to be rescheduled for Sunday morning. In the final installment of the four game series, the Spirit grabbed the 3-1 win behind goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Cheyna Williams and defender Alyssa Kleiner.

Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams
Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams

Banini’s goal, her fifth of the year, gave the Spirit an early 1-0 lead in the 29th minute. The Argentinian received a pass from Joanna Lohman at the top of the box and blasted a shot past Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey. Just six minutes later, Sky Blue forward Tasha Kai was on the receiving end of a fortunate bounce and beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to even the score.

i-XrzjbGJ-X2Williams would assure the Spirit went into the locker room with the 2-1 lead. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams would collect, split two Sky Blue defenders and tuck home a shot past Casey. The goal was Williams’ first professional goal.

“It felt really good and when my team embraced me, that was the best part,” Williams said. “I think we responded well. We know that they capitalize on their opportunities and we wanted to make sure we switched on at all times. So I feel like the goal was a wakeup call for us and I think we responded really well.”

i-hXtWK3K-X2This was the first time the Spirit scored two goals in the first half since June 18, 2016 against Orlando. After calling last week’s first half “atrocious”, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra felt this week’s was the best half his team had played all season.

“I think it was probably our best half of the season, at least as far as playing the way we want to play in setting our press,” Gabarra said. “Outside of not scoring the chances we created on corner kicks and other chances where we felt like we could have been up 3-0 before we scored our first goal. I thought it was much better, the energy was good. We were playing the way we’ve asked them to play.”

Williams would not be the only player to score her first professional goal. After Kleiner was subbed on in the 89th minute, it didn’t take long for her presence to be felt. Just moments into extra time, Kleiner collected the ball at the top of the 18 yard box and crushed a shot with her left foot into the back of the net to secure the victory for the Spirit.

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The NWSL will now go on break for the Olympic games. The first game back will be on August 18, 2016 in Houston between the Spirit and the Dash. This game is a makeup game from May 27, 2016. Kickoff for the matchup is 7 p.m. in Houston (8 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Cheyna WilliamsGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna Lohman

Coming off an away win in Kansas City, the Spirit hit the road for the second week as they traveled to New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC. The Saturday night matchup was the third of four meetings for the two clubs. Sky Blue would take all three points thanks to a goal in the 24th minute from Leah Galton. The goal would be the only one of the game for either side as Sky Blue picked up the 1-0 win.

“Credit to Sky Blue, they’re always going to battle,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said. “They were very organized, they sat really deep and we kind of just played into their hands.”

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Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Huster, Lohman, Nairn ©; Banini, Ordega, Williams

Early on, the Spirit struggled to find its way around the game. After a few defensive mistakes went unpunished, Sky Blue eventually would capitalize. Galton picked up a pass from around 35 yards out and drove down the sideline. The Spirit defense failed to pick up the streaking Galton, who would go on to roof the shot past Kelsey Wys.

“That’s a great individual effort by a dangerous player and that’s where their attacks would come from,” Gabarra said, “but you can’t single out one player, it was our whole team. We were just passive and disorganized and not the team we’ve been up to this point.”

The second half was a better showing from the Spirit, but nothing would come of it. The best chance for the Spirit would come in the 59th minute when forward Cheyna Williams put a shot off of the post. The rebound bounced out to Joanna Lohman, but the midfielder could not find the back of the net.

“I think from the fortieth minute on, I kind of saw the team that I’m used to seeing,” Gabarra said. “Unfortunate not to get a goal and get back in the game, but the first forty minutes were atrocious.”

Next Saturday, the two teams will face off once again, this time back at the Maryland SoccerPlex. This will be the final installment of the four part series. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. This will be the final game for both sides before the league takes an 18-day break for the Olympics.

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

 

Joanna Lohman

I held a Twitter poll so fans could vote for the next interview, and they voted for Joanna Lohman.

It’s no surprise, really. Joanna is a fan-favorite across the league. Each week you can see her Twitter getting attention from local Spirit fans and opposing fans alike.

Joanna Lohman is actually a significant reason Follow Your Spirit exists. After the 2015, I met Joanna Lohman after we did an interview for a different podcast. She spoke with me about women’s soccer and how underrepresented it is in the media. That inspired me to start this outlet.

So, if you enjoy Follow Your Spirit, thank Joanna Lohman.

Joanna and I discussed a number of things including:

  • Her amazing start to the 2016 season
  • The unsung hero of the team
  • Which Ninja Turtle would match which teammate
  • Her engagement with fans
  • What to expect from the JoHawk this season

Be sure to follow us on Twitter and let me know what you think of the interview.

@JoannaLohman (Guest)

@TimLawson21 (Host)

@SpiritCoverage (Official Twitter account)

@LawsonEntertain (Production)

Joanna Lohman

Ali KriegerChristine NairnCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJoanna LohmanStephanie Labbe

After winning the first two road contests of the year, the Washington Spirit’s undefeated season came crashing down at the hands of the Portland Thorns. The road woes for the Spirit had made their way to the 2016 season. While the Spirit was able to get a goal onto the board in the second half, strong first half play from the Thorns, and lackluster defending from the Spirit, led to a 4-1 win for the Thorns.

Joanna Lohman scored the loan goal for the visitors, bringing her season total to three. She is among five other players, including Diana Matheson, who lead the league in goals. Her header off of a Crystal Dunn cross in the 55th minute gave the Spirit life, but it did not help stop the strong Portland attack.

Portland’s first goal started off of a Tobin Heath corner kick in the 26th minute. Heath curled a right footed cross into the box, and poor marking from Spirit defender Ali Krieger allowed Lindsey Horan to run onto the corner and into the goal.

Just six minutes later, another mistake by the defense would once again hurt the defense. After a ball came into the box, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé attempted to clear the ball from the attack. A miscue between Labbé and defender Alyssa Kleiner would result in Labbé’s clear bouncing off of Kleiner for an own goal.

The defensive problems went from bad to worse, as Tobin Heath picked up a mistake by Megan Oyster to go in one-on-one with Labbé. Heath chipped Labbé to give the home team a 3-0 lead heading into the break.

The second half was a better defensive half for the Spirit, but it was a little too late. Despite being down two, and then three goals throughout the second half, the Spirit showed a sense of urgency that was lacking in the first half. A goal by sub Meg Morris put the nail in the coffin for the Spirit with 12 minutes remaining in the game.

The game was another physical one, which was to be expected after the 0-0 draw that saw five yellow cards given back in Maryland. Two weeks later, the physicality was matched, with five yellows doled out on Saturday evening. Christine Nairn picked up the only yellow for the Spirit after getting tangled up with Thorns forward Nadia Nadim.

It will be interesting to see how the Spirit responds next week, as the squad has yet to drop points in two straight matches. The biggest question mark is how will the defense bounce back next week against a team they have already held scoreless this season in the Houston Dash. Another thing to watch out for is how the team lineup. Jim Gabarra has not named the same starting XI for two games in a row all season.

The Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the Dash. Kickoff for the Friday night matchup will be 8:30 EST.