As the 2017 NWSL season approaches, we will be rolling out profiles on the 2017 Washington Spirit roster.
Name: Shelina Zadorsky
Hometown: London, Ontario, Canada
College: University of Michigan
Last season: As the newest allocated player to the Spirit in 2016, Shelina Zadorsky played in 11 matches in the regular season, starting in 10 of those games. Zadorsky played the full game in both postseason matches, recording an assist on Ali Krieger’s goal in the semifinal. Zadorsky was a steadying force on the backline, despite missing games as a member of the bronze medal-winning Canadian Olympic team.
2017 season: Because of the heavy turnover of veterans in the offseason, Zadorsky and midfielder Tori Huster are the frontrunners for team captain in 2017. Zadorsky and fellow Canadian Stephanie Labbé will be tasked with leading a fairly new backline. Don’t be surprised if the center back pairing on opening day has Zadorsky matched up with Estelle Johnson.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
New Follow Your Spirit features audio from Ashlyn Harris and Shelina Zadorsky.
The first segment is Ashlyn Harris’s post-game interview after the Spirit’s 2-0 victory over Orlando.
The second segment is my feature interview with Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky. Shelina talks with me about how she got into soccer, her chemistry with the team, her game day routine, and which player is most likely to be abducted by aliens.
This will be the only episode released this week. I hope to see everyone at the Plex!