Photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)
After three weeks on the road, the Washington Spirit returned home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the visiting Portland Thorns. One strike was all it took for the Thorns to take home all three points on a rainy Saturday night in Maryland.
For most of the evening, the Spirit had the better of the attack. But for the third straight game, Washington was unable to break the scoresheet and were shutout once again. In the 68th minute, Portland substitute Ellie Carpenter crashed hard to the net to finish a ball for her first ever NWSL goal, making her the youngest to ever score in the league.
Whitney Church Shines at Center Back
In her three seasons for the Spirit, Whitney Church has struggled with the fast paced NWSL game. On Saturday night however, Church had one of her best games for the Spirit, anchoring the backline with Estelle Johnson out once again. While Church is not known for her speed, her positional awareness, ability to out jump players much taller than her, and her well weighted long balls have made her a key piece of this year’s backline.
“I saw what I expect to see from her. I’ve seen that in her for the last two to three years,” Gabarra said after the game. “She’s a tremendous defender and she always seems to be in the right place and that’s my expectation of her is to play games like that. I’m just glad she’s comfortable enough and secure enough now to be able to show everyone else.”
With Johnson out, the captain’s armband has been worn by Church. More of a quieter player in her first season, Church has stepped up and become a leader on the team. Alongside Johnson and Tori Huster, head coach Jim Gabarra considers Church to be one of the veteran leaders on the Spirit.
The Offense Goes Quiet Once Again
It has been over 350 minutes since the Spirit last scored a goal. On April 28, Francisca Ordega scored against the Chicago Red Stars in the 4th minute. Since then, the Spirit have played three full games without putting a goal up on the scoresheet. While the goalkeeping from the opposition has been good, the Spirit are just not getting it done. Washington ended up with four shots on goal, but most were right at Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
On Saturday night, the Spirit switched up the front three to try and get a spark going offensively. Ordega was sent to the bench and Estefania Banini moved up to the front line from the midfield. Alongside Banini were Mallory Pugh and Ashley Hatch. Ordega would eventually come in off the bench for Hatch, but was unable to deliver.
The Spirit will now welcome a winless Sky Blue team to the Plex on Wednesday night. Sky Blue has allowed 12 goals in just six games played this season. If the Spirit are going to break this goalless drought, it needs to come Wednesday night.
“I think we are getting the opportunities, we just need to put them away,” midfielder Andi Sullivan said. “We have great opportunities to break through and we just have got to have that final touch. I think it takes like 10 shots to make a goal so the floodgates are going to open soon, I’m sure.”
A Possible Rose Lavelle Return
According to head coach Jim Gabarra, midfielder Rose Lavelle could be available for Wednesday’s game against Sky Blue.
“We’re hopeful that Wednesday she’s available for selection.”
Lavelle, who has been out with a hamstring injury since August 2, was acquired in the dispersal draft from the Boston Breakers. If Lavelle is available on Wednesday, expect her to play very limited minutes off the bench. This isn’t the first time this season that Lavelle has been deemed almost ready to play so it will most likely be something that isn’t actually confirmed until Wednesday.
The Spirit will return to action on Wednesday night to take on Sky Blue at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. After that, the Spirit will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Sunday, May 27.
The Washington Spirit returned home on Saturday evening to take on the Chicago Red Stars. Both teams scored a goal in the first half to finish the match in a 1-1 draw.
Francisca Ordega opened the scoring in the fourth minute to put Washington ahead 1-0. Ordega has now scored in three straight games. The Red Stars would get one back in the 20th minute off of a rebound that fell right to Alyssa Mautz. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe made a play on the original ball but collided with Chicago forward Sam Kerr and was unable to recover for the second chance.
Aubrey Bledsoe Saves a Point Again
Last week, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe stopped a penalty kick which secured a point for Washington. The save also was voted save of the week. Coming into the game against the Red Stars, it was expected that Bledsoe would play a big role in stopping Australian international and 2017 NWSL MVP Sam Kerr from scoring.
The biggest save of the day came just four minutes before halftime. Sam Johnson headed a Chicago corner kick on goal, forcing a save out of Bledsoe. On the goal line, Bledsoe extended out and got her fingertips to the ball, parrying it away. While the goal was not scored, play was stopped because Bledsoe’s lip was bleeding, a result of colliding with defender Caprice Dydasco on the play. The Spirit Squadron awarded Bledsoe the Player of the Match trophy after the game.
Another Week, Another Ordega Goal
Three straight weeks sees Francisca Ordega’s name on the scorers sheet for the Spirit. This week forward Mallory Pugh played a ball across the end line that Ordega was able to tuck home at the back post. The partnership between the two is flourishing at just the right time. At the beginning of the year, it was unclear if Ordega would make the starting XI for the squad. With Estefania Banini being away with national team commitments, Ordega really stepped up. It is hard to imagine Ordega leaving the lineup any time soon.
Rebecca Quinn Remains Out
For the third straight week, rookie Rebecca Quinn remains out because of an injury to the TFL muscle in her hip. While she was listed as questionable and did make the 18 player roster, Quinn did not see the field. The midfield has found its groove as of late with Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Andi Sullivan. It would be nice to have Quinn back though to play on the backline alongside Estelle Johnson as a center back.
Washington will travel to Utah to take on the Utah Royals for the first time in club history. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on May 5.
On the second road trip of the season, the Washington Spirit picked up their first road point with a 1-1 draw at the Portland Thorns.
The scoring happened all in the first half, but most of the opportunities came in the second. Francisca Ordega opened the scoring on a scrapy play in front in the 37th minute. In added time of the first half, Caprice Dydasco fouled Ifeoma Onumonu in the box. Thorns forward Christine Sinclair would convert the penalty to tie it up at one. The Thorns had a chance to win it in the 87th minute, but Lindsey Horan would have her penalty kick saved by Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to keep it tied.
Aubrey Bledsoe Comes Up Big
Late in the game, with the Thorns on the attack, Aubrey Bledsoe was forced to come up with a big save after a potentially costly mistake. A ball was played into the box from deep and it was a race between Bledsoe and Thorns defender Emily Sonnett for the ball. Sonnett got there before Bledsoe, and the goalkeeper would then foul Sonnett.
After the nasty tackle, Bledsoe had to step up and try to save a penalty to keep her team tied. Lindsey Horan would step up, backup, restart her run, and eventually have her kick saved by Bledsoe. It was her second career penalty kick save.
Ordega Wreaks Havoc
Francisca Ordega opened the scoring in the 37th minute, her second on the season. Tori Huster’s corner was poorly cleared and it bounced to the center of the six yard box. Thorns goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom was unable to grab it and a scramble in the box lead to Ordega poking it through.
Ordega had multiple other chances and was difficult to slow down when she was running at the backline. WIth the Thorns playing only three in the back, the front line of Ordega, Mallory Pugh, and Ashley Hatch were able to get it going for much of the first half. The second half was not as strong, but the trio is really starting to come together.
Tori Huster Returns to the Starting XI
Spirit midfielder Tori Huster returned to the starting XI on Friday night. Huster, alongside of Andi Sullivan and Meggie Dougherty Howard, held down their area well against four midfielders for the Thorns. This greatly helped the defense of the Spirit, who, alongside of Aubrey Bledsoe, had a fairly quiet evening. If Rebecca Quinn remains injured, the Spirit will most likely stick with this trio.
Washington will return home next weekend to take on the Chicago Red Stars. The match is scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m. on April 28.
The Washington Spirit opened up the 2018 NWSL season on Saturday night against the Seattle Reign at Memorial Stadium. Two first-half goals from Seattle sunk Washington in game one, 2-1.
Reign forward Megan Rapinoe opened the scoring in the 7th minute off of a free kick. With 10 minutes to go before halftime, former Spirit forward Jodie Taylor doubled the lead for the home team to send the Reign into the locker room up 2-0. A goal from Joanna Lohman in the 68th minute brought the Spirit within one, but that would be all Washington could do to comeback.
Defensive Mistakes Cost Washington
Rookie Rebecca Quinn was to make her NWSL debut on Saturday against the Reign but due to visa issues, she will have to wait another week to make that happen. Instead, Whitney Church slid into her spot in the center of the defense alongside Estelle Johnson. While Church did not have a particularly poor performance, the partnership between Church and right back Taylor Smith struggled.
“I think the biggest thing is you’ve got Whit and Taylor who haven’t played together and they’ve only had a couple of training sessions and a couple of games,” head coach Jim Gabarra said after the match. “Then you’ve got Rapinoe out there to deal with so it’s not a good cocktail. But you’ve got to get through it and you’ve got to find that relationship and it takes time for those.”
The second goal highlighted the Spirit’s struggle defensively, with a poor touch from Smith on the offensive end leading to an easy cross in from Rapinoe.
“I thought we were a little unlucky on the second goal,” Gabarra said. “I mean Taylor has a great read, she wins the ball but it goes right to them and they play it in behind her so it was a little unfortunate.”
Joanna Lohman Scores in Return From ACL Injury
In the 2017 season opener, Joanna Lohman’s season was over after just 22 minutes. Lohman tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament against the North Carolina Courage in April of last year. Almost a year later, Lohman returned to the pitch as a sub for Tori Huster at halftime. With 23 minutes gone in the second half, Lohman proved that she was officially back. Off of an assist from Estefania Banini, Lohman spun her way through the middle of the box and rifled a shot past goalkeeper Michelle Betos.
“I think it was such an amazing feeling, just getting back on the field,” Lohman said postgame. “I’ve really missed playing the game and obviously I’ve missed being with the Washington Spirit. They’ve been so supportive of me through my injury. I wasn’t fully expecting to play tonight, I think Jim and I’ve been talking about slowly getting me back into the games, so I was so excited to get in at halftime and try to make a difference and bring some energy. I was happy to do that and to get a goal was just an icing on the cake.”
Andi Sullivan Impresses in NWSL Debut
Rookie midfielder Andi Sullivan made her debut for the Washington Spirit on Saturday evening. The Lorton, VA native had three shots, two of which were on target in 90 minutes of work. Sullivan seemed to fit in seamlessly into the Spirit lineup alongside Tori Huster and Meggie Dougherty Howard.
“I thought she was a rock in their for us,” Gabarra said. “She was very reliable. I think she’s confident enough to withstand the tactics and professionalism that was thrown at her tonight. She just kept bouncing back and fought through it so it was really good to see that she’s at a level that she can play in this league and excel.”
The Spirit will return home to face the Orlando Pride on March 31 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. This match will be the Lifetime Game of the Week and will kick off at 3:30 p.m.
“Well, home opener is always an exciting time,” Gabarra said. “I think we’ll have a little bit different opportunity to game plan against Orlando now that we’ve got a game on tape. We can also evaluate our play and make some refinements and clean up some details and some of those working relationships and get to know each other a little better.”
With the 2018 season beginning on Saturday, Follow Your Spirit brings you a break down of each position group on the Washington Spirit. Next up, the midfielders.
#27 – Yanara Aedo
- Age: 24
- Hometown: Temuco, Chile
#10 – Estefania Banini
- Age: 27
- Hometown: Mendoza, Argentina
#8 – Meggie Dougherty Howard
- Age: 22
- Hometown: Largo, Florida
#23 – Tori Huster
- Age: 28
- Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
#16 – Rose Lavelle
- Age: 22
- Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
#15 – Joanna Lohman
- Age: 35
- Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland
#12 – Morgan Profitt
- Age: 23
- Hometown: Columbus, Indiana
#9 – Havana Solaun
- Age: 25
- Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
#6 – Andi Sullivan
- Age: 22
- Hometown: Lorton, Virginia
With the number one overall draft pick, the Spirit selected Andi Sullivan. Washington also acquired Rose Lavelle from Boston in the dispersal draft. It is tough to say what the starting lineup will be with this group. It will come down to which formation head coach Jim Gabarra decides on. In years past and this year’s preseason, Gabarra has played with three in the midfield. If this is the case for this year, expect to see Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard and Havana Solaun in the midfield.
While Estefania Banini is listed as a midfielder on the roster, expect to see her as a forward in the 4-3-3 system. Lavelle did not play in either preseason match and is not expected to be ready right away. Once she returns, Gabarra will be faced with the decision of whether or not to switch to a 4-4-2 instead. The midfield group is the deepest of all of the positions, however, many players are very similar. There are four to five players who could be classified as defensive midfielders. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the offense dynamic of the team.
Player to Watch
Andi Sullivan, a Lorton, Virginia native, returns to Washington after four years on the west coast at Stanford. Sullivan played three seasons for the D.C. United Women and Spirit Reserves. With the number one pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Washington selected Sullivan to return to D.C.
“[Being picked first overall] was interesting,” Sullivan said after practice on Friday. “It’s funny, you dream about being a pro your whole life and to know it’s actually happening was very cool. I wish I could have been at the draft but I was in LA. I was hanging out with Savannah McCaskill, who got picked second, so that was pretty cool because it was a similar situation. There was just so much going on but it was obviously super exciting and I was just really happy.”
Unlike most rookies, Sullivan is very familiar with the city she was drafted by. It’s the small things in life that Sullivan is most relieved about.
“I love [being back in the area],” Sullivan said. “I think it’s also made this transition into pro life a lot easier being familiar with the area and a lot of the players and the facilities and everything. And the roads even, a lot of little things that you would maybe take for granted when you’re in a new place. It just feels like I’m back at home so it’s very comforting.”
Tomorrow’s preview will take a look at the forwards for the Spirit. This will be the final group preview before the season opener on Saturday, March 24.
The sign of a good defensive midfielder is when she can go unnoticed in a game. If she is doing her job, you’ll very rarely hear about her. The Washington Spirit have had one of the best defensive midfielders in the league since the team was founded in 2012 in Tori Huster. Now, they have a rising young star who is getting to learn from one of the best. Rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard has quietly had a great freshman campaign alongside Huster.
Dougherty Howard began her soccer career in Largo, Florida at the age of four. Her older sister played soccer so that’s what Meggie did. With her sister being three years older, Dougherty Howard very rarely played at her own age level. When she did, it wasn’t with normal competition.
“I always loved [soccer] because as I got older, I played years up in club so I actually got to play with my sister a lot at the club we were at. That was really cool,” Dougherty Howard said. “When I was playing my own age, I was playing with guys. I was the only girl on an all-guys team until I was 17.”
When it came time to go to college, Dougherty Howard wanted to get out of Florida. Then the University of Florida came calling. Dougherty Howard’s club coach, George Fotopoulos’ wife Danielle is a legend at Florida and was one of the reasons Dougherty Howard gave the Gators a look.
“Going to Florida was definitely one of the best decisions I could have made in terms of my development as a player and then also just the relationships I’ve had with the coaches and my teammates,” Dougherty Howard said. “They made it such a great environment for me to grow in so many aspects on the field and off.”
To continue to get better, Dougherty Howard decided to spend the summer of 2015 in Washington playing for the Spirit Reserves. After two summers with the squad, Dougherty Howard had gained experience that would help her eventually get drafted by the Spirit.
“The first summer I came it was definitely an eye opening experience because college is a competitive environment and definitely a step up from club but at the college level, there are players who are higher and there’s players that are lower, freshman to seniors, a lot of growing in between there,” Dougherty Howard said. “Obviously having KJ [Spisak] as a coach was really awesome and great and I learned a lot from her and she had a direct line in from Mark [Parsons] who was here the first year, and then Jim [Gabarra] obviously last year in terms of the direction that the organization was going with and how the pro team plays and how they wanted that to transfer to the way that the Reserves were playing. That just helped me prepare myself to come into an environment where I had to be playing at that high level.”
Dougherty Howard returned to the University of Florida sharp and ready for preseason. Having the opportunity to practice with professionals helped set her apart in the SEC.
“Being able to jump in training with the pros, it’s the only way that you’re going to be able to get better is by playing with people who are better than you. I think that really helped me grow and that experience has helped me tremendously.”
In January of 2017, Dougherty Howard was in California for U.S. national team camp before heading to the All-American banquet. When it came time for the NWSL Draft, she didn’t have any family in Los Angeles for the event. Fortunately for Dougherty Howard, both her club coach, George Fotopoulos, and college coach, Becky Burleigh, were there for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention.
“I am so thankful that they were both there with me. It was definitely nice to have a familiar face, someone who is like family there with you. It’s definitely stressful and you don’t know what’s going to happen until it finally does,” Dougherty Howard said. “I kind of just trusted that God had a plan for me and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. Thankfully I wound up here and I’m super happy to be part of this team.”
Dougherty Howard has played in 12 games this season and has drawn great praise from her head coach. Unlike most rookies in the league, it seems as if Dougherty Howard has fit right in as a starter on the Spirit.
“She’s got great feet and we saw that last year when she trained with us all season,” Gabarra said of Dougherty Howard after a match vs. Kansas City on May 20, 2017. “She understands how we want to play and that’s how she wants to play. She wants to play one or two touch and she’s got a very good tactical awareness of where to play the ball and where to play the ball to make the player she’s playing it to have a good chance to succeed. I think you could see last year she fit right in and it was just something that is part of who she is as a player. She fits to how we want to play and that’s one of the reasons we were so happy to be able to draft her.”
While Tori Huster was out earlier in the season, Dougherty Howard was forced to carry much of the load on the defensive side of the midfield. With Huster back, the duo is one of the best defensive midfield units in the league. Huster’s leadership has helped make the transition to the professional level a smooth one for the rookie.
“Tori obviously is one of the most veteran players on our team and brings a lot in terms of what she can do on the field but then also just her knowledge,” Dougherty Howard said. “I think she does a great job of communicating with us and just helping whenever we might have questions or anything. Then also just being a good person to work with and open to having communication. That’s definitely helpful.”
After the game against Orlando on July 8th, Dougherty Howard began to garner national attention with her passing abilities. To anyone that has seen a few Spirit games this season, the praise from around the league is much overdue. With defensive midfielders being hard to come by at the national team level, don’t be surprised if Dougherty Howard is on the radar of USWNT head coach Jill Ellis in the near future.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
As the 2017 NWSL season approaches, we will be rolling out profiles on the 2017 Washington Spirit roster.
Name: Meggie Dougherty Howard
Hometown: Largo, Florida
College: University of Florida
Last season: Meggie Dougherty Howard was drafted by the Spirit with the number 29 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Dougherty Howard played for the Spirit Reserves in both 2015 and 2016. In 2016, she led the Gators in assists and was second in points and goals. Dougherty Howard was named to the All-Southeastern Conference first team and was named the SEC Tournament MVP.
2017 season: Dougherty Howard has seen limited action in the preseason, but did start in the midfield against Duke on April 1. With depth in the Washington midfield, Dougherty Howard could find herself near the bottom of the totem poll. It will be interesting to see when and where Dougherty Howard fits into the Spirit midfield.