“My socks and shoes always match. Is it luck?” – Primus
Let’s start by giving credit where it’s due. Saturday night at the Plex, the Western New York Flash dominated the first half and defended well in the second half. Outstanding young goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was alert when she needed to be, particularly in poking the ball away from Stephanie Ochs outside the box on a breakaway.
And if we’re going to talk about luck and injuries, the Flash could certainly say, “Did you see Sarah Huffman out there? Oh, that’s right — she was home watching her team and the U.S. national team on two streams.”
If the Spirit had gotten a couple of breaks, the game might have been 1-1. And if it had been 1-1 in the 60th minute, the game may well have played out a bit differently from that point.
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the reasons soccer karma owes the Spirit more than a few favors:
1. The central defense conundrum. In the allocation process, the Spirit got Alina Garciamendez, the Stanford All-American who surely would have been a top draft pick had she not been allocated. But she went to Frankfurt instead.
The Spirit’s biggest free agent signing was Candace Chapman, longtime Canadian international and two-time WPS champion. She played 45 minutes a few weeks ago, but the team saw that she was not yet fit to play more than that. They tried her again on Saturday, and she spent most of the first half grimacing.
One thing that went right for the Spirit: Toni Pressley was cleared to play, an important piece of good timing given Robyn Gayle’s engagement with the Canadian national team. So after one practice, she was tossed into the mix alongside Chapman. Individually, Pressley was fine, showing a few flashes that justified the Spirit’s hype. And in the second half, when she was paired with former Florida State teammate Tori Huster, the defense wasn’t bad at all.
But in the first half, having a hobbled backline leader with a newcomer is far from ideal.
Which leads to …
2. What the heck was that first goal? Looks like it hit Ashlyn Harris’ glove, then the FRONT of the post, then spun in. I know we’re near Washington, but that’s a lot of spin.
3. What made Tori Huster go flying on this corner kick?
We might trust the ref a bit more if he hadn’t somehow failed to notice a couple of Flash players with socks around their ankles and no evident shin guards. (Ironically, the Spirit Reserves’ Alex Doll was sent to the sidelines in the first game of the doubleheader so that she could produce the mandatory protective equipment.)
The Spirit can take a couple of positives in the sense that they were creative in the second half, and Pressley settled in nicely. Conny Pohlers is on the way. But it’s getting a little late in the season for moral victories and a general notion that the team is improving. I think the Spirit would be a dangerous team in the playoffs, but the math dictates that it’ll be a difficult climb to get there.
I might have a heightened sense of empathy for unlucky soccer teams after coaching an All-Star team over the weekend in which we had one ref who let our opponents knock us all over the field, then another ref who would arrest people for driving 66 mph in a 65 zone. (Nothing like two PKs and a direct free kick just outside the box to rattle a 9-year-old goalkeeper.) The team made great progress in a short time, and while they weren’t going to earn a trophy, the final score of their last game really wasn’t fair.
And so when you look at the Spirit — and sure, my sense of empathy may be heightened by being around the team all the time — you see an organization doing a lot of things right. They have the best playing surface in the league. They’re committed to an attractive style of play. They’re selling tickets. And they’ve yet to win a home game.
These things even out at some point, don’t they?