On paper, it doesn’t look good for a pro team to lose to a college team. Particularly one that isn’t renowned as a national title contender (though that could change this year). Particularly when other NWSL teams are mopping the field with their college opponents.
But we have to repeat that the Washington Spirit that lost 2-0 at Maryland tonight is not the Washington Spirit team that will take the field in 10 days or two months. The Spirit dressed 15 players, then scratched Tiffany McCarty, who joined Colleen Williams, Kika Toulouse, Danielle Hubka and Candace Chapman as injury absentees. Holly King is back in college in Florida for another few weeks, and four players are away with the USA and Canada.
Not that the Spirit were particularly pleased after this encounter. Grumpiness spread over many of the players — aside from all the Maryland alumni posing for pictures with their former teammates.
Quick aside about that: Maryland has some passionate soccer fans who don’t seem to realize who played for their team last fall or two years ago. They yelled for the current players by name and argued with the officials. Sure, the game had no PA announcer to give the names of the players and rev up the voice for the Terp alumni. But I spoke with a group of fans who didn’t know the names Domenica Hodak or Jasmyne Spencer in the first place.
Spencer barely knew her teammates’ names, having just joined the team at the pregame meal. She got a good long run at forward and posed a few problems for her former defense, but the Spirit attackers weren’t quite in sync. Individually, many of them played well — Caroline Miller came close to settling some old ACC scores singlehandedly, and Stephanie Ochs was solid on the wing and in the middle. The chemistry wasn’t quite there, which is bound to happen to a team that just brought in a forward three hours ago. And as solid a worker as Spencer is, a 5-1 forward may not be the best target for an aerial cross. They’ll need to rework that alignment.
Surely some of the issues will pass. It’s easy to see how the missing players will fill important holes:
– Maryland got most of its chances on counterattacks. They easily could’ve won 4-0. But will the Spirit give up those chances when Ali Krieger and Robyn Gayle (and Candace Chapman, if healthy, and possibly Kika Toulouse) are at the back? Probably not.
– The Spirit had a lot of possession but lacked that incisive pass. Enter Diana Matheson, now busy with Canada.
– McCarty was the driving force behind the Spirit’s win over UNC. She also wasn’t on the field for this game.
So what do we know from this game, one of three games the Spirit will play in seven days with 14-16 players? Not much. About as much as we know from Major League Soccer’s preseason, which is generally an audition period, or Major League Baseball spring training, which is basically a feeding frenzy for shady collectibles dealers.
Some of the players on the field tonight won’t last past Monday’s roster cuts. Others will be typical rookies with moments of brilliance and a few growing pains. In the end, the Spirit will forget about this game — just as Maryland’s fans who attended tonight have apparently forgotten Spencer, Hodak, Skyy Anderson and Olivia Wagner. (Spencer took it in good humor. Might have a chance to post quotes tomorrow.)
As for the opening game April 14, I think everyone has two requests. Warmer and less windy.