Andi SullivanAshley HatchEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraMeggie Dougherty HowardRebecca QuinnRose LavelleWhitney Church

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.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Quinn, Dydasco; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Sullivan; Pugh, Hatch, Banini.

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.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Whitney Church was presented the Spirit Squadron’s player of the match trophy following the game.

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.

Next Up

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.

Estefania BaniniHavana SolaunJoanna LohmanMeggie Dougherty HowardRose LavelleTori Huster

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.

The Group

#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

Expectations

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.”

Next Up

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.

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