Photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)
Last season, the Washington Spirit went 3-0 against Sky Blue FC. So with the Spirit desperately needing a win to help their season, a winless Sky Blue came to town. The Spirit turned in one of the better overall performances from the squad this season and picked up a 1-0 win on Wednesday night.
Both teams were unable to break the deadlock in the first half with each team having shots go off the woodwork. Coming out of the locker room, Spirit forward Ashley Hatch was firing on all cylinders. She would finally put one home in the 64th minute, proving to be the difference for Washington.
Defense Comes Up Big
In the past three games, the Spirit defense has allowed just two goals with one coming off of a free kick. Rebecca Quinn and Whitney Church’s partnership was proving to be a positive one and when Estelle Johnson came back into the lineup on Wednesday night for Quinn, the transition was seamless. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe picked up her second shutout as a member of the Spirit in the 1-0 victory.
“I think Aubrey has certainly stepped up in these past couple games and she hasn’t been making that one or two big mistakes that create a good chance or goal for the other team,” head coach Jim Gabarra said.
One of the biggest keys to the new found confidence of the backline was the decision to switch up which side the center backs were playing on. When Johnson was out because of injury, Quinn stepped in to play at center back. At that time, the Spirit played her at right center back alongside of Taylor Smith, while Church would be on the left with Caprice Dydasco. With Johnson returning, she slid into the right center back role to keep Church on the left.
“We wanted to put [Quinn] on the side with Taylor,” Gabarra said. “Then when we bring Estelle back in, you’re basically making two changes rather than one so we put Estelle [on the right side]. Estelle is more comfortable on the right anyways so it might stay that way. I think the important thing is the relationship between Whit and Estelle is very good and [Quinn] and Estelle have a good relationship with Taylor and Estelle and Whit have a good relationship with [Dydasco]. Then that translates up to Tori and [Quinn] or Andi in the six role.”
Andi Sullivan Picks Up First Career Point
Mallory Pugh drew a foul in the attacking third for Washington roughly 63 minutes into the game. With it being too far out for a shot on goal, midfielder Andi Sullivan stepped up to take the kick. Sullivan played a well weighted ball towards the back post and found the head of Ashley Hatch. Hatch’s header would be good enough for the only goal of the game. With the assist, Sullivan picked up her first career professional point.
“Whit has been putting in some great services and I don’t know, for some reason I just felt inclined to take it and she let me which was great,” Sullivan said. “Then it was a little far out and we wanted to test their keeper but it was a little far and Mal looked at me and said serve it and I said ok. I think I like that service, like the back post bent service and Hatch is great in the air so I just looked to kind of hit it to that back six. It was one of those that as soon as it hit her head, I knew it was going in. So it was awesome, she is so good at that finish so I just wanted to serve it up to her.”
The goal was the first scored by the Spirit since April 28, a 1-1 draw vs. the Chicago. Hatch now has two goals on the year for Washington.
“Mal did a good job of drawing the foul and Andi set up and I just wanted to start wide and run in on it,” Hatch said. “Andi put a perfect flighted ball and it was easy just to run in on it and tap it in.”
Rose Lavelle Makes Her Spirit Debut
Spirit midfielder Rose Lavelle made her Spirit debut on Wednesday night, coming in for Estefania Banini in the 74th minute. Lavelle picked up her first NWSL minutes after having not played due to a hamstring injury since August of 2017. Her fresh legs helped the Spirit, who are playing three games in eight days.
“It felt really good,” Lavelle said. “I was really nervous going in because obviously I haven’t played in a about a lifetime. So I was really nervous but it’s the same game as before I got hurt. I just had to calm down and let my nerves settle and just enjoy the moment.”
Washington now heads to Houston on Sunday to take on the Dash. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. Houston sits just two points ahead of the Spirit and sit in 7th place.
The Washington Spirit will play their first midweek match on Wednesday night when they take on Sky Blue FC. This will be the second match in five days for the Spirit after falling to the Portland Thorns 1-0 this past Saturday.
7:30 PM ET on Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland
Projected Starting Lineup
Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Estefania Banini
Midfielder Rose Lavelle and defender Estelle Johnson were both not listed on the injury list for Wednesday night’s game. Johnson has missed the past two matches because of a hamstring strain. Lavelle, acquired from Boston in the dispersal draft, has yet to suit up for Washington. A hamstring strain has kept Lavelle out of NWSL play since August of 2017.
OUT: Cali Farquharson (left tibial stress injury – D45), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
Key to Victory
Don’t Give Up Free Kicks. The Spirit have given up some juicy free kicks so far this season and it has cost them. In the season opener, Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe buried a curler right past goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. In both games against North Carolina this season, Washington has given up a free kick goal. Against North Carolina on Saturday, Sky Blue’s Carli Lloyd tucked one into the upper 90 during extra time to bring Sky Blue within one. If the Spirit want to keep Sky Blue off the board, being smart about where they are giving up fouls is very important.
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.
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.
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!
Follow Your Spirit: @SpiritCoverage
Jordan Small and Tim Lawson catch up on all of the player movement and acquisitions, including the 2018 college draft.