Photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)
For the second time in the past three matches, the Spirit lost 1-0. Kealia Ohai put the Houston Dash ahead in the 28th minute, a lead they would never relinquish. A strong performance from the Dash defense and a less than stellar showing from the Spirit attack resulted in Washington falling at home once again.
Coming into the match, the Spirit dressed only 16 players because of a growing list of injuries. Lindsay Agnew made her first career start up top with Francisca Ordega, one of many areas where head coach Jim Gabarra felt unfamiliarity hurt his side.
“It’s probably a lot of players it’s their first time playing in a league match, it’s their first time in a starting role,” Gabarra said in the post-game media scrum. “I mean we had [Ordega] and [Agnew] playing together, they never played together. [Solaun] was playing in the attacking midfield role, she hasn’t played that much in there.”
Saturday’s match marked the first time this season that the Spirit did not have to make a sub because of injury in the first half. This came as a relief for Gabarra.
“It was wonderful. I wanted to have four [subs] so I could get Cam [Castleberry] in there but you only have three,” Gabarra said. “I think we’ve turned the corner, knock on wood.”
While the offensive side of the ball was not connecting in the final third, the play of the defense and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé was a positive takeaway from the match. The Spirit have conceded just three goals this season over three games.
“I think our defending and our goalkeeping has been very good all three games,” Gabarra said. “That’s been a real good constant for us.”
The play of Labbé has kept the Spirit in all three games this season. She is second in the league with 17 saves on 20 shots. Despite the heavier workload, Labbé has embraced her role on the team.
“Unfortunately I’m getting more shots than I hope and having to make more saves than I want,” Labbé said after the game. “But that’s a part of the game and if that’s my role this year, I’ve said it before, I’m ready to take that on.”
Another player that has stepped up for the Spirit in recent weeks is defender Estelle Johnson. She has played as an outside back in the three back system, often drawing the assignment of the opposing team’s best forwards. Johnson has been forced to relearn the outside back position after not seeing time there in a quite a while.
“It’s so different. I have to revert back to freshman year of college, the one year I ever played outside back,” Johnson said when addressing the media after the game. “I played it in Philly in the WPS for like half a season. It’s just learning the game. I know what I should do but my body does different things sometimes. I think just staying focused and being prepared for the game will help.”
Despite having one of the stingiest defenses in the league, the Spirit have struggled to pick up points because of a lack of scoring. This is something the team is looking to improve on before welcoming Sky Blue to town next weekend. Sky Blue and Washington will face off at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, May 6. The match, which was originally scheduled for 4 p.m., has been rescheduled to 7 p.m.
The Washington Spirit hit the road Saturday night for the first time in over a month. After winning three of four games at home, the Spirit traveled to Kansas City for the second match between the two sides in two weeks. Thanks to two goals from forward Estefania Banini and one goal from midfielder Joanna Lohman, the Spirit was able to hold on for a 3-2 win over FCKC.
With halftime fast approaching, it appeared as if the teams would go into the break all tied up at zero. But three minutes into stoppage time, midfielder Christine Nairn played a free kick into the FCKC box. The ball was cleared to the back side of the box and right to the feet of Banini. The Argentinian maneuvered her way around the FCKC defense and slotted the ball past the outstretched arms of Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
In the 59th minute, Nairn played a corner into a swarm in the Kansas City box. As the ball bounced inside the six yard box, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Francisca Ordega and Megan Oyster all had chances at it before the ball bounced to a waiting Lohman. Lohman got a piece of the ball and was able to put it in the back of the net.
Banini’s second goal would come in the 83rd minute off of a Nairn corner kick. After a header by Yael Averbuch cleared the ball to the top of the 18 yard box, Banini rocketed a volley into the top corner to ultimately close out the game for the Spirit.
After shutting out the opposition for two straight games, the Spirit conceded two goals late in the second half. The first goal came in the 69th minute when Frances Silva headed home an Erika Tymrak corner. Silva’s goal cut the Spirit’s lead to 2-1 with just over 20 minutes to play. Late in stoppage time, Shea Groom got another goal back for Kansas City, but the comeback would fall just short.
The Spirit will travel to New Jersey next Saturday to take on Sky Blue FC. In two games this season, both teams have won on the road with Sky Blue taking the most recent meeting, 2-1. Washington will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on July 30 to take on Sky Blue in the final meeting of the year.