Ashley HatchGame Day CoverageKelsey Wys

Five hours later than anticipated, the Washington Spirit hosted the Chicago Red Stars at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Chicago would walk away from the crazy Saturday afternoon turned late evening game with three points in a 2-0 victory.

Just as the National Anthem had finished playing and the players were getting ready for the pictures of the starting lineups, the horn sounded at the SoccerPlex, indicating lightning was detected in the area. As heavy storms rolled through, it was eventually determined that the game, originally scheduled for kick off at 3:50 p.m., would not be starting until 9:00 p.m.

Once the game got underway at its new time, the weather played a heavy hand in the match. The first goal scored by Chicago in the 25th minute was exactly the kind you would expect to see in a rainy, wet game like this one. The Red Stars’ Yuki Nagasato played a free kick in on goal and goalkeeper Kelsey Wys was unable to cleanly coral the ball before Sam Kerr found the back of the net.

“Obviously it’s pouring down rain, it’s hard to for any goalkeeper to hold a clean ball, especially one that’s being bent over a wall that I can’t see anything,” Wys said. “I should have just parried it away but my first priority was to keep it out of the back of the net. Then she followed it up and no one on our team was around.”

The Red Stars would double their lead in the 49th minute off of a well structured passing play in the box. Alyssa Mautz drove into the box before turning around and laying it off for a wide open Nagasato. Nagasato would then tuck it between Wys and the near post for the 2-0 lead.

Washington would be shut out for the fourth time this season. Ashley Hatch had the best chance of the game in stoppage time of the second half. Hatch made a nice run up the field but rookie goalkeeper Emily Boyd stood tall in her debut to earn the shutout.

“It’s hard to keep your concentration for a long time not having to do much,” Chicago head coach Rory Dames said. “I think that’s the sign of a good goalkeeper when you don’t have to do a lot and then you get called in late and she was able to come up big for us.”

The Spirit will be in action again on Friday night as they take on Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. Washington will be without the services of Rebecca Quinn and Franny Ordega who are representing their respective national teams in Canada and Nigeria. Kickoff for the Sky Blue match is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Aubrey BledsoeDiDi HaracicKelsey WysPosition Previews

With the 2018 season beginning on Saturday, Follow Your Spirit brings you a break down of each position group on the Washington Spirit. First up, the goalkeepers.

The Group

#1 – Aubrey Bledsoe

  • Age: 26
  • Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

#21 – DiDi Haracic

  • Age: 25
  • Hometown: Round Hill, Virginia

#19 – Kelsey Wys

  • Age: 27
  • Hometown: Coral Springs, Florida

Expectations

On January 23, 2018, the Washington Spirit traded for a new number one goalkeeper. Aubrey Bledsoe, who started 11 games for Orlando in 2017, would replace Stephanie Labbé. Despite some less than stellar numbers in the preseason, expect Bledsoe to have a solid season between the pipes for Washington.

The more interesting aspect of this group is who will be the backup. It was unclear who would get the number two spot for 2018. When the roster was released Monday afternoon, the picture was as blurry as ever. With both DiDi Haracic and Kelsey Wys making the roster, it appears as if the competition will stem through at least the first month of the year. While Haracic played seven games in 2017, Wys was held out as she continued to recover from an ACL tear in late 2016. The biggest question going forward is how close to 100 percent is Kelsey Wys.

Player to Watch

Aubrey Bledsoe is the player to watch in 2018. The biggest question is how she will handle being the outright starter from day 1.

“I’ve been wanting to get minutes in the NWSL for a couple years now,” Bledsoe said after the last preseason game. “As a backup keeper, it’s all about being ready for an opportunity when it comes and it came. I thought I did fairly well. Every game I progressed and tried to take something and add it to my game. Now I’m a completely different player, much more confident, better with my feet, reading the game, just the speed of play, I’ve adjusted to it a bit and I’m excited to step into the Spirit this year and it’s an opportunity to be the outright starter. I’m really excited for that and hopefully, I can lead the defense and have a good season here with the Spirit.”

Bledsoe played for Sydney FC of the Australian W-League in the offseason. Bledsoe found out about the trade while still playing in Australia.

“I was excited,” Bledsoe said. “I got a call in the middle of the night from Coach Sermanni. I’d actually missed his call earlier and I knew I was traded so I stayed up really late till he called me back and I was just like ‘what team, what team?’ I figured there was a chance it could be the Spirit. I actually played for Jim [Gabarra] my rookie year at Sky Blue in New Jersey. So I talked to Tom and then Jim called me right away and it was a short conversation because I was really tired.”

Next Up

Tomorrow’s preview will take a look at the defense for the Spirit. With new faces and limited numbers, this is one of the position groups with the most change heading into 2018.

Alyssa KleinerAndi SullivanArielle ShipAshley HatchAubrey BledsoeBriana ScurryCheyna WilliamsDiDi HaracicEstelle JohnsonHavana SolaunJim GabarraJoanna LohmanJordan SmallKelsey WysMallory PughPodcastPreaseasonRebecca QuinnRose LavelleSchuyler DeBreeShelina ZadorskySpirit SquadronStephanie LabbeTaylor SmithTori HusterWhitney Church

Joanna Lohman smiles at ref

Jordan Small and Timothy Lawson connect after four weeks since the last podcast. The two hosts cover every bit of news that has released in February, plus a couple announcements for Follow Your Spirit. Enjoy!

Jordan: @Jols98

Tim: @TimLawson21

Follow Your Spirit: @SpiritCoverage

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerCaprice DydascoChristine NairnCrystal DunnDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey WysTori Huster

The curse of DC sports teams continued Sunday evening as the Washington Spirit fell to the Western New York Flash on penalty kicks in the NWSL Championship game in Houston, Texas.

For the third time this season, the Spirit and Flash were set to clash, this time for the league crown. Both teams scored early in the first half, but no additional goals in regulation sent the game to extra time. A goal from Crystal Dunn just a minute into extra time looked like a sure winner. WNY would not go down without a fight however, and scored the equalizer in the fourth minute of added time in the second half of extra time. In penalty kicks, Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo stopped three of the Spirit’s five penalty kicks to lead the Flash to its first ever NWSL Championship.

All started well for the Spirit when defender Megan Oyster played a ball into the box just nine minutes into the match. D’Angelo came out to try and collect the ball, but missed allowing the ball to fall to Dunn. Dunn rounded the goalkeeper and deposited the ball into the net to open the scoring for the Spirit. The Flash would respond in the 14th minute with a goal from the top of the box from midfielder Samantha Mewis.

The Spirit were forced to make an early sub as defender Alyssa Kleiner replaced defender Caprice Dydasco. Dydasco went down in the 22nd minute with what is being listed as a left knee injury. With only three subs for the game, the move put the Spirit in a pinch. Kleiner came into the match and immediately made an impact, gaining praise from head coach Jim Gabarra during the post game press conference.

“Having to sub a flank player early on was not something we anticipated,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner did a great job in there on the flank, that’s why she’s here. It really tied our hands, especially looking at without a lead going into overtime and possibly facing penalties, Stengel is one of our top five for penalties.”

Just one minute into extra time, Dunn would grab her second goal of the game, putting the Spirit up 2-1. The Spirit had the championship trophy in its grasp with under a minute remaining in the match. In the fourth minute of added time in extra time, Flash forward and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams got on the end of a cross from Jessica McDonald. Williams out jumped two Spirit defenders to head the ball over Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

“I think as competitors, we always know the game situation, we’re up a goal, we’re down a goal, roughly how much time is left,” midfielder Christine Nairn said. “In that last play, I just remember it coming off of I think Jess McDonald’s foot and I jumped for all it was worth and there was a collision between me, Lynn Williams and Kleiner. Then the crowd went wild, so it happened all so fast.”

Headed to penalties, WNY seemed to have all of the momentum. Wys was able to stop one Flash attempt and force McDonald to hit one well over the crossbar. D’Angelo was equal to the task, stopping shots from the three original Spirit players in Ali Krieger, Tori Huster and Diana Matheson. The Flash would eventually win 3-2 (3-2 on PKs), securing its first ever NWSL Championship.

“We had been good at penalties and our two best penalty kick takers, they get saved,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kelsey was a little bit unfortunate not to get one, I mean two she gets her hand on. It’s a funny game, it’s a brutal way to decide games. It’s not a loss in my opinion, they advanced on penalties.”

Despite the game being in Houston, a large contingent of Spirit supporters, including members of the Spirit Squadron, made the trip down to cheer on their team, bringing energy to BBVA Compass Stadium.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without the Spirit Squadron,” Nairn said. “They surprised us by being out in that corner, and we hear that drum, them screaming. We walked over there and our hearts break just as much as theirs. They’re just as much a part of this team as we are. Like I said, we are here because of them. Thanks for them and everything they do. They do more for us than they know.”

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Ali KriegerChristine NairnDiana MathesonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageKelsey WysShelina Zadorsky

For the first time in franchise history, the Washington Spirit will be playing for the NWSL championship.

The Spirit beat the visiting Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in overtime in front of 4,249 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday night. A goal from defender Ali Krieger opened the scoring for the Spirit, and with just under 10 minutes remaining in the overtime period, forward Francisca Ordega sealed the deal for Washington.

“We’ve wanted this for the past four seasons, and I think we deserved it all season,” Krieger said. “We’ve played so great. Obviously it was a team win, towards the end you could see that with the goals we scored, it was involving the entire team.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn

Washington controlled the play from the start, but as halftime drew closer, had nothing to show for it. A corner kick from Krieger was played away by Red Stars defender Julie Johnston, but the ball was played right to Spirit defender Shelina Zadorsky. Zadorsky played a ball back into the box with her left foot, finding Krieger’s head at the back post for the goal in the 36th minute.

“I saw time and space and I knew we had a lot of runners in the box,” Zadorsky said. “I had thought maybe swing it in with my right foot, but I’m a little more confident with my left, so I took a touch back and tried to curl it into a dangerous space. Then all the credit to Ali for an incredible goal.”

Chicago would get a goal back in the 80th minute to tie the game up. Defender Casey Short played a ball over the Spirit backline and right onto the foot of on running forward Christen Press. The drama continued in stoppage time as Press beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, but hit the crossbar, sending the game into extra time.

“I was just hoping that my teammates, my center backs and everyone else were covering for me as they should,” Wys said. “I did what I could to put her off and then the soccer gods were with us, that was what I was thinking as soon as that hit the post. I was like they are with us tonight.”

Both teams traded chances in the opening half of extra time, but it wouldn’t be until the 111th minute that either team was able to break through. Combination play between midfielders Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson set up the Spirit in the box. Nairn sent the ball across the face of goal to a streaking Ordega at the back post. Ordega was able to just get a piece of it, directing it past Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

“I think I was just right there at the right time because when I saw how good the ball was like, ok let me just go in case the ball bounce back,” Ordega said. “I wasn’t expecting the ball at that spot, but it came out to be a successful goal.”

Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.
Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.

In its first ever home playoff game, the Spirit qualified to play in its first NWSL Final. After finishing in last place in year one, four years later, the Spirit will play either the Portland Thorns or WNY Flash for the league crown.

“It’s super rewarding because I remember that first season where we didn’t have the best opportunities and maybe we didn’t have the best season at all,” Krieger said. “Working off of that, building a team, building this core group that we’ve had, it’s a really incredible feeling to come that far and to see this team grow into what it is now. I’m just really proud of where we’ve come and now where we are headed. This game’s over now, we have to focus on the final.”

The Spirit will find out on Sunday which team it will face in the Final. The NWSL Championship will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. ET.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Crystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKelsey Wys

For the second straight weekend, the Washington Spirit failed to lock up the NWSL Shield, now clearing the way for the Portland Thorns to claim the best regular season record with just a point vs. Sky Blue on Sunday.  The Spirit defensive corps struggled throughout the game, giving up three goals to the host Chicago Red Stars. While Crystal Dunn got one back, it wouldn’t be enough for the Spirit as they dropped their second straight road contest 3-1.

Just six minutes into the game, Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo played a through ball into forward Christen Press on the right side. Press picked up the ball, beat Spirit defender Estelle Johnson and rocketed a left footed shot to the back post past goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

In the 26th minute, Chicago found the back of the net again. Despite being surrounded by three Spirit defenders, Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta was able to find forward Cara Walls. Walls played a lot shot into the left side of the net past Wys to give Chicago the 2-0 lead.

The opening minutes of the second half were action packed. Less than a minute, Huerta picked up a loose ball at around midfield and took off down the right side. As a few Spirit defenders backed off in anticipation of the cross, Huerta decided to take the sharp angled shot and was able to sneak the ball in at the back post, putting the Spirit in a deep hole.

Right off of the ensuing kickoff, Dunn got one goal back for Washington. Dunn’s low blast seemed to catch Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton off guard as the shot dribbled right past Dalton’s outstretched arms. That however, would be all the Red Stars defense would give up in the final game of the regular season for both squads.

On a positive note for the Spirit, forward Estefania Banini made her return from injury in the 81st minute. The Argentine international had knee surgery on Aug. 24, 2016 and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Banini’s return will bring some much needed scoring depth back to the lineup just in time for the playoffs.

Washington will return home for a semifinal match on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. The match will be the first home playoff game in franchise history. While the seeding is still unknown, the playoff field is set. The Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash will all accompany the Spirit in the four-team playoffs. Match-ups for the semifinals will be announced following the conclusion of tonight’s Portland vs. Sky Blue game.

UPDATE: With a 3-1 victory on Sunday night, the Portland Thorns won the 2016 NWSL Shield. The Thorns will host the WNY Flash on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Spirit will play the Red Stars on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Memorial Stadium in Seattle has never been kind to the Washington Spirit. In six games there in three years, the Spirit have yet to register a win. Saturday’s game vs. the Seattle Reign didn’t change that narrative. The Spirit fell behind early in the game and found no improvement in the second half. The opportunity for the Spirit to clinch the NWSL Shield will have to wait another day as the Reign defeated the Spirit 2-0 to keep Seattle’s slim playoff hopes alive.

Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute with a goal from forward Beverly Yanez. Forward Megan Rapinoe drove down the left side, beating Spirit defender Ali Krieger, to drive in a cross. Yanez was able to slip past the Spirit defense and tap in the cross to give the home team the much needed lead.

The Reign would double its lead in the 78th minute when midfielder Keelin Winters rocketed home a shot past an outstretched Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. The goal was an extra special one for the Reign captain as she was playing in her final home game after announcing she would retire at the end of the season.

Winters (right) played in her final home game on Saturday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.
Winters (right) played in her final home game on Sunday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.

Washington had chances of its own in both halves, but stellar team defending from the Reign shutout the Spirit for just the third time this season. The best chance for the Spirit in the first half came in the 41st minute. After midfielder Joanna Lohman took the initial shot, all chaos broke out as multiple Spirit players attempted to put the ball in the back of the net. But the Reign defense would have none of it. A shot from defender Estelle Johnson in the 89th minute also pinballed around the box, but again, no goal for the Spirit.

Krieger was the only one of the Spirit’s five Olympians that started the game. Midfielder Diana Matheson would enter as a second half sub, coming on in the 76th minute for Lohman. Trying to get minutes for everyone heading into the playoffs, head coach Jim Gabarra put together yet another combination on the front line. Along with Katie Stengel and Franny Ordega, Alyssa Kleiner got her first start of the season at forward after briefly seeing time there as a sub. This was the 16th different combination Gabarra has put out at forward in 19 games this season.

Washington will hit the road one more time, heading to Chicago to wrap up regular season action against the playoff-bound Red Stars. The game will be played on Sep. 24, 2016 at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. on the east coast). The NWSL will be off this next upcoming week as the USWNT hosts Thailand on Sep. 15, 2016 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) and the Netherlands on Sep. 18, 2016 (7 p.m. ET on FS1).

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

Cali FarquharsonCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Wednesday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Seattle Reign had it all. Between numerous weather delays, a pre game controversy, two penalty kicks, three goals,  and a chance to clinch home field advantage for the semi finals, the Maryland SoccerPlex was a busy place to be for a midweek clash in the NWSL.

Foul weather moved into the area just prior to kickoff which pushed kickoff back nearly one hour. The delay sent the teams back into the locker room, while the national anthem was played in the stadium. The move was one done intentionally by the Spirit organization, specifically owner Bill Lynch, in response to recent protests during the national anthem by athletes, Megan Rapinoe in particular.

“We respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal – albeit worthy – cause,” the Spirit said in a statement prior to Wednesday’s kickoff.

Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson

While much of the attention surrounding the game went to the incident with the anthem, overlooked was the fact that with the 2-1 win over the Reign, the Spirit clinched the first home playoff game for the franchise. A penalty kick from midfielder Kim Little made the game close, but goals from forwards Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams were too much for the Reign to overcome.

Dunn started the game on the bench, but just six minutes into the game, the US national team star was forced into action. Forward Cali Farquharson was injured after colliding with a Reign player and was carried off the field by the stretcher. Farquharson returned to the field on crutches and a brace on her left knee after the game.

Williams drew a penalty kick for the Spirit in the 41st minute, but midfielder Christine Nairn would put the kick wide of the right post. Nairn would redeem herself late in first half stoppage time as she played a free kick quickly to Dunn down the right side of the field. Dunn cut back towards the center of the field before ripping a shot towards the back post, placing it in the upper corner past Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s outstretched arms.

“She really turned the corner tonight,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I thought she was playing one, two touch, she was moving and then when she had the chance to take someone one v one, and then just a spectacular shot.”

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Dunn once again had an impact, setting up Williams for the second goal of the game. As Dunn neared the end line, she played a ball into the six yard box of Seattle. Kopmeyer was able to get a hand on it, but a crashing Williams deposited the rebound for her third goal of the season.

“Up front, we have the unfortunate injury to Cali and then to have Crystal and Cheyna and [Ordega] on the same field up front really prevented them from holding a high line like they tried to hold in the first half,” Gabarra said. “We put them under a lot of pressure and kind of kept them honest and they couldn’t throw everything at us as much as they would like.”

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Kim Little would get one back for the away team in the 70th minute on a penalty kick past Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. Seattle was awarded the penalty after a handball in the box by Nairn. The defense for the Spirit stood tall all game to assure the potent attack of the Reign remained under control.

“It was a very good team performance and especially rewarding for me to start seven different players and have a player like Line step out there and not having played in the league and play 90 minutes against the best midfield in the league and hold their own,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner was great at right back, Caprice, that was probably her best game of the season and Shelina Zadorsky stepping in and kind of leading the back line was just awesome.”

The Spirit will hit the road for the final two regular season games of the year. First up is a trip to Seattle for a Sunday rematch with the Reign. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. (10 p.m. on the east coast.) The final game of the regular will be Sep. 24, 2016 in Chicago vs. the Red Stars.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos