You all almost had me convinced. All the last-place predictions. All the caterwauling over the preseason results. Put the Washington Spirit in last place and use the Sharpie, everyone said.
That same Spirit team led most of the way Sunday in its NWSL debut on the trampolining turf of Dilboy Stadium, the Boston Breakers’ packed home ground. And Tiffany McCarty’s goal wasn’t even the Spirit’s best shot of the night — she didn’t make clean contact on her header off Ingrid Wells’ cross, but it found its way into the net. Diana Matheson rattled the crossbar on a shot that goalkeeper Ashley Phillips just managed to deflect. Phillips came up big on a Stephanie Ochs effort as well.
That’s not quite the same Spirit team that lost two preseason games. Matheson sparked the attack from various points on the field, shooting from long range and finding the sneaky Lori Lindsey in the box for a golden opportunity. Fellow Canadian Robin Gayle marshaled the defense and played a solid game at center back. Ali Krieger matched Boston’s speedsters stride for stride and made a couple of last-ditch saving tackles. Ashlyn Harris made a series of big saves as the Spirit protected its lead late, and she bravely came out to collect under heavy pressure from Sydney Leroux.
Harris was down for a bit, but Leroux has the gnarly reminder of what happened then and elsewhere in the game …
And then there’s the refrain we’ll hear quite often this season — The Kids Are Alright. Ochs and McCarty challenged the experienced Boston backs. Julia Roberts was composed alongside Lindsey at holding mid. Wells, who was quiet much of the preseason, was an offensive sparkplug who set up the game’s lone goal.
Boston’s Cat Whitehill said after the game it was unfair to write off the Spirit based on preseason results. She was expecting a tough game and she got it.
For the Breakers’ part, Boston’s fans should enjoy their trips to Dilboy, aside from the occasional cold and the blinding glare that makes visors and sunglasses mandatory first-half equipment. The Breakers have solid veterans in many positions on the field. Heather O’Reilly is always entertaining on the wing. Kyah Simon is an enthusiastic shooter.
Then there’s Leroux, who always seemed to be the most likely scorer for Boston and finally tied it near the end with a classy finish from a difficult angle. The sellout crowd got its reward, and 1-1 was a fair result.
I may follow up with some quotes when I don’t have a dawn wake-up call to get back home. But the moral of tonight’s story is this:
Forget preseason. It’s on now.