Photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)
After a midweek win against Sky Blue at home, the Washington Spirit will head to Houston to take on the Dash. The Spirit will have a chance to move within four points of a playoff spot.
8:00 PM ET on Sunday, May 27, 2018
BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas
Projected Starting Lineup
Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Rebecca Quinn, Estefania Banini; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega
With this being the third game in eight days for Washington, it is possible that the Spirit will have a very different looking lineup against the Dash. Head coach Jim Gabarra had mentioned after the Sky Blue game that the defense could see some different looks to get some players rest, specifically the outside backs of Caprice Dydasco and Taylor Smith. However, with the Spirit in dire need of points, Washington could go with a similar lineup as what was seen on Wednesday night.
OUT: Cali Farquharson (left tibial stress injury – D45), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
Key to Victory
Stay Compact. The Spirit have done a good job of staying compact along the back line in the past three games. In those three games, they have only allowed two goals, with one coming off of a free kick. Taylor Smith and Caprice Dydasco have settled into their roles at outside back and have found the balance between attacking and defending. The center backs of Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn, and Estelle Johnson have done well despite rotation due to injuries. If goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe can keep the backline in check in front of her, the Spirit could go on a run here at a time where they desperately need points.
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.
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.
The Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage will meet on Saturday evening for the second time this season. After a 4-2 defeat at home to North Carolina, Washington will now travel to Cary to take on the first place Courage.
7:00 PM ET on Saturday, May 12, 2018
Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina
Projected Starting Lineup
Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Estefania Banini; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega
Estelle Johnson is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. She injured her hamstring during practice on Wednesday. While it is still possible that she plays, her effectiveness will be a question for the match. During practice on Wednesday, Whitney Church and Rebecca Quinn were paired together at the center back position.
OUT: Rose Lavelle (left hamstring strain), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)
QUESTIONABLE: Estelle Johnson (right hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
Key to Victory
Win the midfield. North Carolina has one of the best midfields in the league. If the Spirit want to pick up a win on the road, they will have to improve the play of the midfield. With Estefania Banini returning and Rebecca Quinn expected to play on the backline, the midfield could look very different from weeks past. Expect Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, and Banini to be the trio faced with stopping the high powered Courage midfield. Banini will help improve the offensive production of the midfield, something that has been lacking over the past month.
After a week off for a FIFA Break, the Washington Spirit return home to the Maryland SoccerPlex to take on the North Carolina Courage. This will be the first matchup of the regular season for the two teams. The two teams faced off in Richmond, VA in the preseason finale, a 3-0 win for North Carolina.
7:00 PM ET on Saturday, April 14, 2018
Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland.
Projected Starting Lineup
Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Havana Solaun; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega
Rebecca Quinn is listed as out with a muscle strain in her hip. The Canadian international left the match early against Orlando on March 24. While Quinn traveled to France with the Canadian National Team, she did not see any time against France.
OUT: Rose Lavelle (left hamstring strain), Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy), Rebecca Quinn (right TFL muscle strain), Arielle Ship (right ACL recovery – D45)
QUESTIONABLE: Cali Farquharson (left tibial stress injury)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Yanara Aedo (CHI), Estefania Banini (ARG)
Key to Victory
Slow down the front line. When the Spirit played North Carolina in the preseason finale, the North Carolina front line tore the backline of the Spirit to shreds. If the Spirit want to come away with any points at all, it’s all about containing Lynn Williams and Crystal Dunn. But don’t get too focused on them because that is when Jessica McDonald will burn you. A strong performance from Church and Smith on the right side of the Spirit backline is vital.