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.

Andi SullivanEstefania BaniniEstelle JohnsonGame Day CoverageGame PreviewRebecca QuinnWhitney Church

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.

Kick-Off

7:00 PM ET on Saturday, May 12, 2018

Location

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

Noteworthy

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.  

Injuries

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.

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Twitter

Follow @spiritcoverage and @jols98 for game updates and to keep your timeline to date with our Washington Spirit coverage on Twitter.

Game Day CoverageGame PreviewRebecca QuinnTaylor SmithWhitney Church

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.

Tip-Off

7:00 PM ET on Saturday, April 14, 2018

Location

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

Noteworthy

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.

Injuries

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.

Stream

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Twitter

Follow @spiritcoverage and @jols98 for game updates and to keep your timeline to date with our Washington Spirit coverage on Twitter.

Caprice DydascoEstelle JohnsonPosition PreviewsRebecca QuinnTaylor SmithWhitney Church

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 defenders.

The Group

#5 – Whitney Church

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Ashburn, Virginia

#3 – Caprice Dydasco

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

#24 – Estelle Johnson

  • Age: 29
  • Hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado

#4 – Rebecca Quinn

  • Age: 22
  • Hometown: Toronto, Canada

#7 – Taylor Smith

  • Age: 24
  • Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas

Expectations

This offseason, the Spirit acquired Taylor Smith in a trade with North Carolina. They also added Rebecca Quinn with the number 3 overall draft pick. While the Spirit didn’t do a lot to improve their defense, the small changes will definitely help moving into 2018. Looking at the first game of the season, expect Smith to be at right back, Quinn to be at right center back, Estelle Johnson at left center back, and Caprice Dydasco at left back.

The biggest concern with this group is going to be that right side for a few different reasons. In the one preseason game where all five of these players saw time, they allowed three goals. Smith is great at getting forward and up into the play but has struggled at times getting back against tougher opponents. Also, while Quinn plays at center back for Canada, she has mentioned that she enjoys playing in the midfield role more, a spot she occupied regularly at Duke. With national team games happening frequently throughout the season as World Cup qualifiers approach, the Spirit will struggle to field a backline. Quinn and Smith have both been consistent call-ups over the past year and will likely continue to be in 2018. Luckily for the Spirit, there are midfielders on the roster that have experience playing on the backline.

Player to Watch

Rebecca Quinn has been capped by the Canadian National Team 37 times in her senior career. Since the Rio Olympics, Quinn has become a consistent name on the backline for Canada. With that comes a lot of lessons and leadership opportunities.

“I mean a lot of good takeaways from being with the national team. I think leadership is a big one. I’ve had to play a leadership role on the national team playing center back at a pretty young age so I think coming in as a rookie to the NWSL, I can show a bit of that as well. Then I think just playing with high-quality players. I mean the U.S., number one team in the world and playing against their national team on a regular basis will only be good for me going into France in 2019.”

Next Up

Tomorrow’s preview will take a look at the midfield for the Spirit. This is the largest position group for Washington and one that head coach Jim Gabarra has talked a lot about since the draft.

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

Player PreviewsWhitney Church

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

Name: Whitney Church

Hometown: Ashburn, VA

Position: Defense

College: Penn State

Whitney Church during the game vs. Chicago on July 9, 2016. Photo credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Last season: Whitney Church played in 11 games for the Spirit in 2016, starting in 7 of those matches. She also played every minute of both playoff matches. Often referred to as the “victory cigar,” Church was used as a late game defensive substitute for head coach Jim Gabarra in multiple games throughout the middle stretch of the season. Church spent most of her time at centerback during the 2016 season. She also saw time at outside back and in the center of the midfield.

2017 season: With trades and injuries to the backline, Church could see even more playing time this season. Church could slide in at outside back to fill in for Ali Krieger, who was traded to the Orlando Pride. Church did appear as a defensive midfielder for the Spirit in the championship game. As a versatile player, Gabarra could play her in various positions in preseason to find the best fit.

Christine NairnCrystal DunnFrancisca OrdegaGame PreviewNWSL PlayoffsWhitney Church

The 2016 NWSL Championship is finally here. After many months of games and practices, it all comes down to just one game. The Washington Spirit will play the Western New York Flash on Sunday in Houston, Texas. In the two previous meetings this season, the Spirit beat the Flash 3-0 and tied 1-1.

After beating the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in the semifinals, the Spirit will look to hoist its first trophy in franchise history. Here are three things to look for on Sunday afternoon when the Spirit hit the pitch for the final.

1) Which back five will head coach Jim Gabarra “pull out of his hat” this week?

20160903_washwny_0653-x2

Gabarra has put together many different lineups this season, rotating his backline from week to week. Last week, the back five was comprised of Kelsey Wys in goal, Ali Krieger at right back, Whitney Church and Shelina Zadorsky as the center backs and Caprice Dydasco at left back. With Wys getting the nod even when Stephanie Labbé returned from the Rio Olympics, it would be surprising if she wasn’t the one between the pipes tomorrow afternoon. Another spot where change be surprising would be the outside backs. Dydasco and Krieger have both shown that they can work up and down the field, contributing to the offense while still fulfilling their defensive responsibilities. The real question will be who Gabarra pulls out of his hat to start in the middle of the defense. It appears Megan Oyster has fallen out of Gabarra’s starting projections. With Church, Estelle Johnson, and Zadorsky getting most of the minutes over the past few weeks, the starters will most likely come from these three. Zadorsky and Johnson seem like the most logical combination because of the height and speed of the Flash offense.

While it is still unclear who will be in the starting lineup come Sunday, the defense remains confident and prepared for the potent Flash offense.

“We’ve seen them before, so we kind of have an idea of what they can bring and what they can do,” Church said. “I think the coaching staff has done a really good job at preparing us for that, and as long as we stick to our game plan and have each other’s backs, I think we’ll go really far in this game and we’ll have a really great shot.”

2) Who will step up and score for the Spirit this week?

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Eleven different Spirit players have scored this season, including forward Estefania Banini, who leads the team with five goals. While the defense has rotated, the forward line has changed even more. The same combination of forwards has not played together more than three games in a row this year. This has proven helpful for the forwards, as no one player has too much pressure placed upon them.

“For me, it’s great because teams don’t really know who to mark, who’s dangerous or what our capabilities are and I think that it’s gotten us to the point that we are in now,” forward Crystal Dunn said.

When facing such a high powered offense as the Flash , the Spirit has to be able to score multiple goals to keep up with WNY. Washington is ready for the challenge though, as everyone feels they are able to score. Ten of the Spirit’s 32 goals this season have come from midfielders or defenders, illustrating the team’s scoring depth.

“Everyone, everyone, I mean everyone, including the defenders, everyone is capable of scoring,” Francisca Ordega said. “It’s not just the forwards, anyone is capable of scoring. We are not relying on anybody, come Sunday, anyone can score. Hopefully we can score more goals come Sunday. Anybody can score, it might be our goalkeeper, she might score.”

3) The battle of the midfield will determine the outcome of the game.

20160903_washwny_1154-x2

While much of the talk is on the Flash offense vs. the Spirit defense, one area of the game that is overlooked is the midfield battle. The trio of Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman and Christine Nairn is one of the top midfields in the league. They will be tested on Sunday as they go up against a gritty Flash midfield. If the Spirit can play through its midfield like it did against Red Stars in the semifinals, the Spirit improve its chances of winning the game.

“I think that we know our strengths and weaknesses and what we can do to be the best as a team,” Nairn said. “I think we are going to stick to our game plan in the midfield, as well as respect players like McCall Zerboni is the first one to come to mind, she’s a battler. But Jo Lohman is also a battler. So I think we match up well with their team. At the end of the day, it’s who is going to put their body on the line and who is going to perform to the best of their abilities.”

Kickoff for the NWSL Championship game will be 4 p.m. (5 p.m. on the east coast). The match will be broadcasted live on Fox Sports 1.