It’s getting difficult to write about the Washington Spirit. The options are:
(A) Piling on to a team that’s obviously in an epic slump.
(B) Appearing to be in denial.
Not that it really matters what we the punditocracy think. What matters is what the team thinks. And if you’re a Spirit fan looking for a ray of hope that the team can at least finish strong, it’s this: I sense that the team buys into the notion of a “fresh start” and believes in the direction Mark Parsons is leading it. Ashlyn Harris spoke with the media tonight and buried nothing but this game, saying she’s done with it and ready to move on to the televised game in Seattle.
Tonight isn’t a night to make excuses. In New Jersey over the weekend, the Spirit deserved a result. Not tonight. Yes, the Red Stars’ second goal was a fluke that may have been offside, and yes, the Spirit could’ve earned a PK late. But the ref was erratic, not biased — I couldn’t believe some of the grappling holds the ref allowed Spirit midfielders to use. The Spirit may not have deserved to lose 2-0, but 1-0 would’ve been more than fair. The only team that could feel robbed tonight was the Spirit Reserves, which had 30-plus shots to Fredericksburg’s three but still tied 1-1, which means they’ll have to play their conference playoff in Virginia Beach against the ultraphysical Piranhas.
(Not that “soccer karma” exists. Ashlyn Harris making a tremendous save on a dubious PK call may have been poetic justice, but not soccer karma. That’s a rant for another day, though.)
This wasn’t the Spirit’s night. The positives were Candace Chapman’s steady climb back to her 2010-11 form and a few good stretches of possession. They were often one good pass or one good shot away from a goal or really good chance. But those final touches weren’t there. Diana Matheson hasn’t regained her early-season explosiveness. Conny Pohlers is still slightly off. As Parsons put it, the last two teams the Spirit played never had them on their heels, but Chicago did.
So what was this “ray of hope” I mentioned? Why is Harris so willing to forget this game so quickly? Why do I get the sense the team is buying into its new direction?
Back up to the Spirit’s draw with Kansas City. Parsons said everyone understood it would take a couple of games to get going with the team’s fresh start, and points in that stretch would be “a bonus.”
It’s not just going to take a couple of games. It’s going to take a few practices. And with five games in 2 1/2 weeks, they’re not getting any practices.
I have to admit it didn’t hit me until I spoke with Parsons after the game. I asked if through balls and finishing were next on the training agenda. He ran through the schedule for the rest of the week: Recovery, flight to Seattle, etc.
The schedule isn’t just exhausting the team. It’s giving them no time to adapt to their new system and their new players. Stephanie Ochs talked a bit after the game about how the attackers still aren’t quite in sync. Fix that, and you fix a lot of problems.
In the last few games, the Spirit has played pretty well for 60 minutes but can’t convert, and the defense eventually gives way. If they can take a lead, the game will look a lot different.
Might help if they could catch a break or two. But again, soccer karma doesn’t exist.