“I was here really early so I didn’t go in the wrong locker room,” said Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra, the only head coach in the 10-year history of the Washington Freedom.
He chatted with Washington Spirit assistant Kris Ward, who coached in the Freedom’s once-sprawling club structure, as he strolled to the bench. He raved about the Maryland SoccerPlex facility that hosted the Freedom from 2004 onward and still bore a couple of its logos until a few weeks ago.
And he watched his Sky Blue team beat the Spirit 2-1, remaining unbeaten on the season.
Gabarra’s team had a good sense of where to attack the Spirit. They earned an early corner kick, conceded a bit too easily, and sent towering defender CoCo Goodson into the box to head it past Ashlyn Harris. Their speedy forwards harassed midfielder-turned-center back Tori Huster.
But the Spirit contained Kelley O’Hara, who started at forward rather than the backline and spent a lot of the game running at Kika Toulouse, not Ali Krieger. O’Hara managed to cut back and shoot a few times, but they were harmless shots that didn’t trouble Harris. And O’Hara’s frustration boiled over a couple of times — she earned yellow for a rash challenge that left Toulouse sprawled on the grass. The speedy Lisa DeVanna, a former Freedom forward, and the formidable Danesha Adams were a handful.
The shot count, particularly in the first half, was lopsided in Sky Blue’s favor. But Harris didn’t have to pull off anything as spectacular as the big stop on Abby Wambach’s header last week. Sky Blue was willing to shoot from anywhere, but aside from the two goals on which she had no chance, Harris easily had the angles covered.
The Spirit found forward Tiffany McCarty a few times, once on a beautiful bending ball from Stephanie Ochs that would’ve put McCarty one-on-one with goalkeeper Brittany Cameron if not for a dubious offside call.
But McCarty was unusually tentative when sprung free by peripatetic Spirit attacker Diana Matheson or when handed the ball by a Sky Blue error. Some fans yelled for McCarty to be subbed out, though we don’t know how many of those fans are Virginia supporters who wanted to see Caroline Miller.
In any case, those fans got their wish in the 71st minute, and Miller provided instant offense off the bench. She turned Christie Rampone — yes, longtime U.S. captain Christie Rampone — in knots before forcing Cameron into her best save of the night.
Another subplot of the night: The Canadians, who set the stage for the midfield rivalry on Twitter:
Matheson and Sophie Schmidt battled in midfield a few times and scored two of the game’s three goals. Matheson, as she was in the first two Spirit games, was the team’s sparkplug all night. We the media (sadly not including a newspaper or TV representative) chatted with captain Lori Lindsey about the team’s formation — it’s either a 4-4-2 with McCarty and Matheson up front, a 4-2-3-1 with Lindsey and Julia Roberts holding behind Matheson and two wingers, or a 4-4-1 + Matheson covering the entire field.
Lindsey’s influence on the field is perking up. She’s helping the Spirit win more midfield battles, and she had some threatening long-range shots, as you’ll see in the highlights:
Things you might not have seen on the broadcast or the highlights:
– Toulouse left the game briefly after tangling with O’Hara, then removed roughly 800 feet of gauze from her leg. She’s still dealing with a preseason knock.
– The ref (correctly) stopped play when Krieger took a throw-in while a stray ball was on the field. The stray was removed, Krieger got another ball, and a ballgirl raced out to grab the ball Krieger had thrown to the other half of the field. Then the ballgirl tossed another ball to Brittany Cameron. Thankfully, Cameron saw the ball with her peripheral vision and booted it back, avoiding further delay.
– I have no idea what to make of this, though I’m guessing they loved it in the crowded beer garden:
Next up for the Spirit: Portland visits. They’ve sold 3,500 or so tickets. Get there early and get your barbecue and funnel cakes.