Francisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraStephanie LabbeTori Huster

For the first time this season, the Washington Spirit entered a match on a two-game unbeaten streak. After a 1-1 draw in Chicago, the Spirit returned home to host the 4th place Portland Thorns in front of 4,319 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. A goal in the 19th minute from Francisca Ordega would be all Washington would need to pick up three points in a 1-0 victory.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kallman; Dougherty Howard, Huster, Mewis; Williams, Ordega, Solaun

Ordega would notch her team-leading fourth goal of the year on a highlight reel play. The Nigerian international picked the pocket of Thorns midfielder Allie Long just inside the Portland side of half field. After breaking past Long, Ordega then went on to twist and turn the Thorns’ backline. Washington would get on the board as Ordega rocketed a shot past the outstretched arms of Portland goalkeeper Adriana Franch.

“Franny is extremely physical, she’s very fast, and she’s done a very good job of getting in behind the line,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game. “She’s picked up her game, her movement off the ball and her ability to press in an organized fashion. She’s been rewarded with starts and minutes and goals.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
The Spirit celebrate after Ordega’s goal in the 19th minute.

This weekend’s goal was an extra special one for Ordega. On June 25, 2015, Ordega’s sister Elizabeth tragically passed away. Two years later, Ordega uses her sister’s memory to inspire her and continue to get better.

“I’m like, if I can play my best today and score, definitely I’m going to dedicate the goal to her. I have to do [well] so she can be proud of me and [I can] make myself happy,” Ordega said. “I keep dreaming of her, she motivated me a lot. The only thing that will make her happy, wherever she is, is just for me to be happy.”

The shutout marked the second in three games for the Spirit. Over the three-game span, the Spirit have scored three goals while allowing just one, a penalty kick to Chicago’s Christen Press. As the season hits the halfway mark, the defense for the Spirit has become much more solid.

“I think we did a very good job of team defending and understanding zones and lines,” Gabarra said. “It started last game in Chicago and I think it got a little bit better tonight. But it’s something that comes from playing together, the same group of players and getting an understanding defensively of each other.”

For the first time all season, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé had a very quiet game, something that she welcomed.

“That was awesome,” Labbé said. “I can’t even remember having to make a dive at all in that game so that was great.”

The victory also marked the return of midfielder Tori Huster, who had been sidelined for four games with a right quad injury. While she might not have mad it onto the stat sheet, the impact of Huster’s game was noticeable to those watching the game. The midfield was able to effectively shut down the star-studded Portland offense.

“I really wanted her back last game,” Gabarra said. “Chicago’s got one of the better midfields and Portland’s got probably one of the best midfields in the league. To have Tori’s experience and her bite and ball winning abilities in there was huge for us. I think she was probably not as sharp as she had been when she had been usually playing.”

Riding a three-game point streak, the Spirit will travel to Boston to take on the struggling Breakers. The match is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 1. Boston will travel to Houston to take on the Dash on Wednesday of this week.

Cheyna WilliamsJim GabarraJoanna LohmanKatie StengelStephanie LabbeTori Huster

Opening weekend of the 5th NWSL season did not go the way the Washington Spirit had planned. Two starters left the game before halftime with injuries and the team would end up losing to the North Carolina Courage 1-0 after being heavily outshot.

Just 19 minutes into the game, Joanna Lohman was forced to come off the field because of an injury. Lohman fell to the pitch in pain after attempting to continue playing despite injuring her knee minutes earlier. With Lohman down, the Courage took advantage of the situation. McCall Zerboni was able to get on the end of a Makenzy Doniak cross to put the visitors up 1-0. Things would go from bad to worse for the Spirit in the 38th minute. While attempting to block a cross, Cheyna Williams took a ball off her foot and ankle that would eventually lead to her being subbed off.

“Injuries happen. Certainly, in the first half it makes it difficult with your substitution pattern,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “So we were kind of behind the eight ball having to make two subs.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Caprice Dydasco, Cheyna Williams, and Joanna Lohman sit on the sidelines during the game.

The Spirit struggled to connect passes and keep possession in the first half, but showed signs of improvement in the second half, ending the game with a 53-46 percent possession advantage. Despite the possession advantage, North Carolina won the battle in the midfield using their diamond shape to disrupt the Spirit attack. Washington only managed 3 shots in the game, none of which were on frame, while the Courage picked up 21 total shots with 9 of those coming on net.

“[The Courage] were playing with a diamond in the midfield so they were overloaded and they were able to push us to one side and then find their extra person on the other side of the field pretty easily,” Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said. “We can’t make it that easy for them to switch the field. I think being so disjointed didn’t help our attack either. We weren’t close enough to each other to get something going forward. Being the playmakers in the midfield, we’ve got to get on the ball and help things going forward with our forwards.”

The best chance for the Spirit came in the 63rd minute when Huster played a through ball to Katie Stengel. Stengel rounded Courage goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, but her shot attempt went wide right.

“It’s a little discouraging,” Huster said. “I think there was one play where Stengel would want that one back, usually she’s right on it. It just was an unfortunate day today, a little bit unlucky with that.”

The lone bright spot for the Spirit was the play of goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. Labbé had multiple highlight reel saves, racking up eight total saves on the afternoon.

“I think we left her out to dry way too many times,” Gabarra said. “To only concede one goal, I think that says a lot about her performance as a shot stopper and that’s something we knew was there. Overall, I thought she saved us on numerous occasions.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Labbé makes a save against the Courage on April 14.

The Spirit will be back in action on April 22 as they head to Orlando to face off against the Pride. Orlando is also coming off an opening weekend loss as they fell 2-0 to the Thorns in Portland on Saturday night. The Spirit vs. Pride game will be available on Lifetime as part of the NWSL Game of the Week. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET.

Player PreviewsTori Huster

As the 2017 NWSL season approaches, we will be rolling out profiles on the 2017 Washington Spirit roster.

Name: Tori Huster

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Position: Midfield

College: Florida State University

Huster on July 9, 2016, in a match vs. Chicago.
Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Last season: Tori Huster played and started in 19 regular season games in 2016, recording a goal and an assist. Huster played in all 120+ minutes for the Spirit in both postseason matches. Of the players on the 2016 roster, Huster recorded the most minutes played. As the defensive component in the triangle midfield, Huster played with Joanna Lohman and Christine Nairn.

2017 season: Huster has been widely considered one of the top contenders to take over the captain’s armband after the departure of Ali Krieger. Even if she does not get the official position, Huster will still be an instrumental leader, especially in a vastly new midfield. Look for Huster to be the stable rock in the defensive midfield role, connecting the backline to the attack.

Tori Huster

Tori Huster fights for ball

A short while ago, Tori Huster joined the podcast to update us on her off-season, her comments on recent trades, and how she got involved with The Young and The Brave.

The off-season has not been kind to loyal Spirit fans, but Tori reminds us that the Washington Spirit are still a talented team with plenty of potential.

When you’re finished with this episode, please leave a comment and tell us which player you’d like to hear from in the off-season. We’ll see if we can get them on the podcast soon.

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)

Christine NairnEstefania BaniniFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysTori Huster

The Washington Spirit’s four game homestand came to a close Saturday night with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. Thanks to goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Katie Stengel, the Spirit picked up its third 2-0 win in the last four games. For Banini, the goal marked her second of the season, while Stengel’s strike brought her goal total to three.

Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Ordega, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Kleiner, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Ordega, Farquharson

For the first time since June 18, 2016 against Orlando, the Spirit got on the board in the first half. Just 20 minutes into the game, Francisca Ordega received a pass at the top of the 18 yard box from Banini before laying it off for the Argentinian inside the box. Banini took a few touches before slotting it home past Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton.

In the 73rd minute, Ordega made way for Stengel just before a corner kick. Stengel immediately made her presence known as she ran straight to Dalton and stood right in front of her for the corner kick. The substitution would pay off for the Spirit as Stengel rose up and headed home Christine Nairn’s corner kick. After driving many low corner kicks all night, Nairn was able to get air underneath the ball, making it easy for Stengel to redirect.

Eleven games into the 2016 NWSL season, the Spirit has now recorded seven shutouts. Despite losing two defenders in Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky and starting goalkeeper Steph Labbé to national team duties, Washington has been able to piece together two shutouts in the past two games. The Spirit has leaned on defender Megan Oyster and goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to keep the backline together.

“I think we made a little bit more of a positive step integrating our newer players in the back, but there is still an awful lot to work on defensively,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I think [Wys] makes a huge save there to keep us in the game.To get a clean sheet and win three of four home games, nine of twelve points makes me feel good, but there is always the next game and always got a lot of things we can be better at.”

The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0
The Spirit celebrate after Katie Stengel scored to put DC up 2-0

After four straight games at home, the Spirit will head back on the road for the first time since June 10, 2016. This will be the first road test for the Spirit without its US and Canadian Olympic players.

“I think having four games at home has been really nice,” midfielder Tori Huster said. “We are not going to be used to going on the road. It’s been nice to be home with your fans, we are going to deal with a little bit of adversity on the road, I’m sure. I think if we can just stay tight as a group, if there is a little bit of adversity, I think when we stay tight, that’s going to solve a lot of the problems, no matter what the problem is.”

The Spirit will head to Kansas City next Saturday to face the defending NWSL champions. It will be the second matchup between the two teams in three weeks. In the previous meeting, the Spirit picked up three points in a 2-0 win. Kick off is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Kansas City (7 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Christine NairnEstelle JohnsonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey WysTori Huster

After a disappointing loss to Sky Blue at home last week, the Spirit welcomed the defending NWSL champions FC Kansas City to town on Saturday nigh. The Spirit rebounded with two goals late in the game to snag three points from KC in a 2-0 win. Forward Francisca Ordega and midfielder Tori Huster both got on the scoresheet with a goal each.

Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Oyster, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Oyster, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Farquharson

The first half was fairly even from both sides, with neither team getting a really good chance on goal. Both teams used the first half as an adjustment period as many players were seeing their first minutes of the season.

For the Spirit, Estelle Johnson made her season debut at center back, while Caprice Dydasco made her second start of the season at outside back. In just her second game of the year, goalkeeper Kelsey Wys picked up her first win and posted her first shutout.

“I think Caprice, Estelle, everyone else who got a chance tonight did a great job. Just credit to the team as a whole,” Wys said. “We’ve worked on communication and being organized all week and being on the same page. I think we did the little things tonight we need to do in order to get the W.”

After coming on as a sub at halftime, Ordega quickly made her presence known. The Nigerian international used her speed to get at the back line of Kansas City. The Ordega substitution would prove to be a wise one in the 79th minute. After a scramble in the box, and many bodies on the ground, Ordega picked up a bouncing ball and tucked home the go-ahead goal past FCKC goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

Just over five minutes later, Huster rocketed a rebound off of Christine Nairn’s corner kick to double the lead for the Spirit. The initial shot from Joanna Lohman was saved by Barnhart, but the rebound bounced back out into the box. The goal was Huster’s first since April 26, 2014 in a 1-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars.

“Definitely more often with my head do I score that than with my foot, but we were able to keep the ball alive,” Huster said. “Luckily it just popped right out to me and I tried to keep it high so that it was hard for anyone to clear it off the line or something like that.”

Lohman (left) and Huster (right) go up for a header that would ultimately lead to Huster's goal
Lohman (left) and Huster (right) go up for a header that would ultimately lead to Huster’s goal

After what head coach Jim Gabarra called a flat week against Sky Blue, the Spirit showed a bit more life against FCKC. While it took 79 minutes to finally break onto the scoresheet, the team looked dangerous in the attack in the second half. Despite missing three of the back five for the Spirit due to national team commitments, the defense was able to come together for its sixth shutout of the year.

“I think there was good energy, we were a lot more organized and we played more as a group,” Gabarra said. “With the previous match, it seemed like individuals and reacting instead of the typical movement that we’ve had.”

Next up, the Spirit will welcome the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, July 9 to the Maryland SoccerPlex for the first matchup of the season. The game will be the final game of a four game homestand for the Spirit. Chicago, who currently sits in fourth place, will be looking to end its two game losing streak. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caitlin BuckleyTori Huster

Tori Huster

Game day is here! Today’s podcast will preview the sold out game versus Orlando and feature an interview with midfielder Tori Huster.

Caitlin Buckley from Black and Red United joins me to talk how the Spirit and Pride match up.

Directly following that segment is my interview with Tori Huster. Tori talks about her life in soccer, her chemistry with the team, the Orlando game, and which teammate could have their own talk show.

Enjoy the podcast and hopefully I will see you at the Plex!

Let us know if you enjoyed this episode on Twitter using #FollowYourSpirit.

@ToriHuster (Guest)

@caitlinbuckley2 (Guest)

@TimLawson21 (Host)

@SpiritCoverage (Official Account)

@LawsonEntertain (Production)

Tori Huster