soccer

Washington Spirit vs. Virginia: Battle of field goals

Perhaps women’s soccer fans should focus on the positive from the Washington Spirit’s 6-3 loss Saturday night at the Maryland Soccerplex: The University of Virginia has a terrific offense with dynamic attackers who can bring Steve Swanson’s vision of possession soccer to life. They’re much more fun to watch than the typical college team.

That said, the Washington Spirit can’t be too happy to concede six goals to a college team. A 5-2 halftime deficit isn’t something to dismiss with ease.

Coach Mike Jorden, how did you stay so calm in the first half? “Benadryl,” he quipped.

A formation change and some renewed commitment stemmed the damage, and the Spirit outplayed Virginia in the second half. Virginia was lucky not to concede a couple more as ex-Maryland attacker Jasmyne Spencer entered the game and buzzed around the Cavaliers’ box, scoring once and being unlucky not to get a PK call.

The Spirit offense didn’t play badly. Caroline Miller, facing her teammates of a few months ago, was effective as the sole front-runner when she actually saw the ball. She fed Tiffany McCarty for one of her two first-half goals. Stephanie Ochs set up the other.

The problems were on the rest of the field, where Virginia’s Makenzy Doniak simply shredded the Spirit’s center backs for two first-half goals.

Still short-handed through national team absences (Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Robyn Gayle) and injuries (Candace Chapman), the Spirit’s defense still bore little resemblance to the defense that will take the field for its NWSL opener in eight days. Midfielder Tori Huster was finally relieved of her preseason fill-in center back duty in the starting lineup, but she was pushed back to the back line as the Spirit tried to stop the bleeding.

“I’ve been changing positions a lot over the last couple of years,” Huster said. “It’s hard to transition right there mid-game. It still wasn’t good when I went into the back line, and that needs to be better.”

Virginia coach Steve Swanson understood the situation but was pleased with the Cavs’ opportunism.

“Obviously, they don’t have their full team,” Swanson said. “But credit to our team for creating the chances we did and finishing some really nice goals.”

At halftime, the Spirit finally put a stop to the defensive meltdown. Jorden switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a straight 4-4-2. Lori Lindsey, by far the veteran of the young Spirit team, took a more attacking role. She set up Miller for a good chance that Churchill O’Connell stopped, and she’ll be kicking herself after missing a solo opportunity.

“We tried to play a bit more direct in the second half,” Jorden said. “In the first few minutes it could’ve been 5-4.”

For Swanson, the changes provided an opportunity to learn more about his team.

“We hadn’t been tested too much defensively (in spring games) until tonight,” Swanson said.

Swanson isn’t reading too much into the fact that his team put up six goals against a team that shut out North Carolina.

“I learned a long time ago not to read too much into things like that,” Swanson said.

And Jorden knows what to work on.

“I think we are a dangerous team. It’s just putting a back line together and winning more 50-50 balls.”

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