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).

Katie StengelPlayer Previews

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

Name: Katie Stengel

Hometown: Melbourne, Florida

Position: Forward

College: Wake Forest University

Kelley Piper
Stengel vs. Duke on April 1, 2017.

Last season: Katie Stengel came to Washington just before the 2016 season from Bayern Munich. Stengel played in 19 regular season games for the Spirit, starting 10 of those matches. She was tied for second in goals scored with four and also had one assist. At 5’9”, Stengel brought a bigger presence to the Spirit’s frontline. In the offseason, Stengel played for the Western Sydney Wanderers of the Australian W-League.

2017 season: After a successful campaign in Australia, the Spirit have high hopes that Stengel will be able to keep up her prime form heading into the 2017 NWSL season. Stengel is one of just three returning forwards that will be available on Opening Day. So far this preseason, Stengel and Cheyna Williams have primarily been the two starting forwards for Jim Gabarra, something that is unlikely to change for the season opener.

Diana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysShelina ZadorskyStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday night in search of a point to secure a spot in the 2016 NWSL Playoffs. Western New York came to town to try and better its spot in the standings in the race to the playoffs. Goals from Spirit forward Katie Stengel and Flash midfielder Sam Mewis would assure both teams would walk away with a point.

“[WNY is] a very athletic team and very good in the air,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “Huge challenge and I think that’s what you’ve got to expect coming down the stretch here when you’re at the top, everyone’s going to come after you with all they have. I thought they put us under a lot of pressure and we really had a hard time getting a hold of the tempo of the game in the first 25 minutes.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn

Both teams exchanged chances, but neither was able to find the back of the net in the first half. Flash forward Lynn Williams had the best chance of the first half when a cross landed at her feet in the 37th minute. A quick save from Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys kept the game scoreless headed into the half.

Just under 15 minutes into the second half, Stengel would break open the scoring with a goal past Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. After being denied by D’Angelo twice in the previous few minutes, Stengel assured she would not be stopped again. Stengel beat D’Angelo in a foot race, jumped over the diving keeper to slot home the go-ahead goal. The goal was the forward’s fourth of the season.

The lead would not last long though. After multiple failed clearing attempts from the Spirit defense, Mewis would pounce on a loose ball at the top of the box and send it skipping past Wys. Despite switching to five defenders in the back in the 79th minute, the Flash would tie it up in the 86th minute to steal a point on the road.

“We had to fight for that point,” Stengel said. “Anytime a late goal is scored, it’s disappointing. We thought we would come away with three points, but they were putting a lot of pressure on us.”

Saturday marked the return of the Canadian Olympians to the Spirit squad. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, midfielder Diana Matheson and defender Shelina Zadorsky were all honored prior to kick-off. While the three did not make it back into the starting XI, both Matheson and Zadorsky did enter the match as second half subs.

“We have a deep squad, so when people leave for national team duty, we still have a fantastic starting eleven and bench,” Matheson said. “People are working hard to get starting spots, and if you’re not getting them, you’re supporting everyone else out there. It’s just a good, positive group.”

The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday's game.
The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday’s game.

While Labbé returned to the game day roster, Gabarra stuck with Wys in goal. Wys, who has started eight of the Spirit’s 17 games this season, made 12 saves to keep the potent Flash attack at bay. Now with two highly talented goalkeepers on the roster, Gabarra is left with a tough decision on game day when choosing a starting goalkeeper.

“It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem. It’s a headache,” Gabarra said. “It’s great to have Steph there and I’m sure there will be some competition over the next week, but as of right now, Kelsey has got the starting position and it’s up to Steph to beat her out.”

The Spirit return to the SoccerPlex on Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016 to face the Seattle Reign for the first time this season. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. While the Spirit have secured a playoff spot, continuing to gather points will be important in the chase for the NWSL shield for best record in the league.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKatie Stengel

Cheyna Williams

Friday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride was an opportunity for the Spirit to increase its lead on the rest of the league and get closer to securing a playoff spot. The Spirit traveled to Orlando to face the Pride in the first official game back from the Olympic break. Goals from forward Cheyna Williams and midfielder Christine Nairn would be enough for the Spirit to hold off the Pride for a 2-1 road win.

For most of the opening fifteen minutes, the visitors controlled the play, earning two early corner kicks. It wouldn’t be until the 37th minute that the persistence of the Spirit would pay off. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams was able to shake Orlando defender Kaylyn Kyle to get off a left footed shot above goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

The Spirit would double its lead in the 57th minute off of a goal from Nairn. After dribbling into the box, forward Katie Stengel spun out of pressure to find a streaking Nairn wide open on the left side. Nairn took a setup touch before placing a low, hard shot back towards the right post past a visibly upset Harris. The goal was Nairn’s third in two games.

Orlando would not go down without a fight and managed to get a goal back in the 71st minute. Forward Sarah Hagen, who was a second half sub for Orlando head coach Tom Sermani, would get on the end of a ball in from Cami Levin to redirect it past Kelsey Wys. The goal from the Pride marked only the 14th goal given up by the Spirit in 16 games played. The Spirit now have a goal differential of +12, good for the best mark in the league.

The Spirit would clinch a playoff spot on Saturday if Reign FC lose or draw vs. Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC lose vs. Red Stars.

Forward Crystal Dunn made her return to the lineup after playing for the USWNT in the Rio Olympics. Dunn’s return came at the perfect time for the Spirit as Estefania Banini underwent knee surgery this past week. Banini is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

NWSL action will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, Sep. 3, 2016. The Spirit will play host to the WNY Flash. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Christine NairnEstefania BaniniFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysTori Huster

The Washington Spirit’s four game homestand came to a close Saturday night with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. Thanks to goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Katie Stengel, the Spirit picked up its third 2-0 win in the last four games. For Banini, the goal marked her second of the season, while Stengel’s strike brought her goal total to three.

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

For the first time since June 18, 2016 against Orlando, the Spirit got on the board in the first half. Just 20 minutes into the game, Francisca Ordega received a pass at the top of the 18 yard box from Banini before laying it off for the Argentinian inside the box. Banini took a few touches before slotting it home past Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton.

In the 73rd minute, Ordega made way for Stengel just before a corner kick. Stengel immediately made her presence known as she ran straight to Dalton and stood right in front of her for the corner kick. The substitution would pay off for the Spirit as Stengel rose up and headed home Christine Nairn’s corner kick. After driving many low corner kicks all night, Nairn was able to get air underneath the ball, making it easy for Stengel to redirect.

Eleven games into the 2016 NWSL season, the Spirit has now recorded seven shutouts. Despite losing two defenders in Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky and starting goalkeeper Steph Labbé to national team duties, Washington has been able to piece together two shutouts in the past two games. The Spirit has leaned on defender Megan Oyster and goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to keep the backline together.

“I think we made a little bit more of a positive step integrating our newer players in the back, but there is still an awful lot to work on defensively,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I think [Wys] makes a huge save there to keep us in the game.To get a clean sheet and win three of four home games, nine of twelve points makes me feel good, but there is always the next game and always got a lot of things we can be better at.”

The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0
The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0

After four straight games at home, the Spirit will head back on the road for the first time since June 10, 2016. This will be the first road test for the Spirit without its US and Canadian Olympic players.

“I think having four games at home has been really nice,” midfielder Tori Huster said. “We are not going to be used to going on the road. It’s been nice to be home with your fans, we are going to deal with a little bit of adversity on the road, I’m sure. I think if we can just stay tight as a group, if there is a little bit of adversity, I think when we stay tight, that’s going to solve a lot of the problems, no matter what the problem is.”

The Spirit will head to Kansas City next Saturday to face the defending NWSL champions. It will be the second matchup between the two teams in three weeks. In the previous meeting, the Spirit picked up three points in a 2-0 win. Kick off is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Kansas City (7 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Cali FarquharsonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie Stengel

On Friday night, the Washington Spirit played the Boston Breakers to a 1-1 draw at Jordan Field in Boston. Playing in its first game since May 21 in Portland, the Spirit scored first on a goal by Katie Stengel in the 13th minute. The lead would last just two minutes as Boston’s Louise Schillgard slotted home a penalty kick.

Despite struggling to connect many passes in the final third, the Spirit used a nice build up down the right side to pick up the only goal from the run of the play. Crystal Dunn played a cross from the right into the six yard box. Joanna Lohman got on the end of it, but her shot was blocked. The rebound found Stengel on the back post, who tucked it away for her second on the year.

“I think most of the first half [Dunn] was the reason we were getting chances in the box,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “It was because she was getting end line and putting them under a lot of pressure in the wide areas.”

Under two minutes later, Spirit rookie Cali Farquharson clipped Boston forward Brooke Elby just inside the box. While there is some debate about the call, a penalty kick was awarded to the Breakers. Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys had no chance to stop it as Schillgard forced Wys to go the wrong direction. That would be the only goal given up by Wys in her season debut.

Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Zadorsky, Oyster, Krieger; Nairn, Huster, Lohman; Farquharson, Stengel, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Zadorsky, Oyster, Krieger; Nairn, Huster, Lohman; Farquharson, Stengel, Dunn

Both sides had numerous chances throughout the game, especially in the second half. Spirit subs Estefania Banini and Francisca Ordega brought a much needed spark to the second half, but neither were able to find the back of the net. Ordega made her season debut, playing 21 minutes for the visitors.

Physical play from both sides had both head coaches voicing their displeasure with the officials. Two yellow cards were given out on the evening, with each team picking up one. Cheyna Williams was shown a yellow for Washington in the 90th minute.

“Every player on the field tonight was frustrated. We felt like we created enough chances to get three points,” Gabarra said.
The Spirit return home next Saturday for a showdown with the Orlando Pride. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. This will be the first game of a four game homestead for the Spirit.

 

Ali KriegerCali FarquharsonChristine NairnCrystal DunnKatie StengelPodcast

Today’s podcast takes a look back a the Spirit’s win over the Boston Breakers and looks forward to their game on the road at Sky Blue.

Listen in for sound bites from Joanna Lohman, Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Cali Farquharson, and Christine Nairn.

Also, we get a chance to meet Katie Stengel and learn about her more as a player and as a person.

Intro music from our very own Spirit Squadron.

Cheyna WilliamsCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJoanna LohmanKatie Stengel

With less than 12 hours before Spirit’s home opener, you can feel an excitement in the air.

There are few things to be looking out for in this game:

How the defense handles Crystal Dunn (if they can)

At the start of last season, Crystal Dunn had zero goals. She exploded through the season and scored 15 for her club. Teams couldn’t keep up with her until Seattle kept her in check. With a full season of video and an off-season to prepare, can teams properly mark Dunn? Boston probably won’t be the best measure for the rest of the league, but it’ll still be interesting to watch.

Who will begin the scoring?

It’s pretty clear Coach Gabarra wants to score all the goals. His off-season pick ups, drafts, and offensive scheme all suggest he’s ready to attack. Who will get the first goal for the Spirit squad? I believe Boston’s attempt to stop Dunn could mean complacency elsewhere, leading to a goal from Katie Stengel or rookie Cheyna Williams.

Can Washington keep a clean sheet?

Washington conceded the most goals of all the playoff teams last year. It’s clear the squad is aiming to host a playoff match, which means getting 3 points more often than just 1. The Spirit attack is potent, but can the defense put up a wall and start the season with 3 points?

Joanna Lohman’s hair

It’s the first design of the season for Joanna Lohman’s fan favorite hair styles. She gave us a preview of it yesterday via Instagram:

 

I’m predicting a 2-0 win for the Washington Spirit at home. Game starts at 7:00pm and can be streamed via YouTube: