soccer

‘Enduring Spirit’ excerpt: Game 1 prep

The book is still on pace to be released Oct. 15, though after yesterday’s malware and erotica incidents, it might be Kindle-only for the first few days. I will still release it on other formats.

Today’s excerpt includes part of the entries for two days as the Spirit prepared for its first game at Boston. (Yes, I saw the feedback from people who wanted something more soccer-related. Enjoy.)

Wednesday, April 10

Warm weather had finally arrived at the SoccerPlex. And still Chantel Jones was wearing long sleeves, not wanting to scrape up her arms on the sand lurking beneath Field 5’s grass.

The competition was no longer within camp. The players had all earned their spots on the team. The focus was now the Boston Breakers. Before warmups, Mike Jorden used some cones to demonstrate a few points about Boston and their likely starting formation. Players also realized they had another source of information in Jasmyne Spencer, who had been in camp with the Breakers. After a bit of chatting, the consensus was that the midfield and the backs were vulnerable. Given the presence of Sydney Leroux up front and Heather O’Reilly on the wing, that seemed to be an obvious conclusion just by process of elimination.

Kris Ward put the team into a 1v1 drill, with the attacker trying to beat the defender and then the goalkeeper. Lori Lindsey screamed at herself after missing; Kika Toulouse was unhappy with her own defending. Caroline Miller was sharp, as was the predatory and clinical Tiffany McCarty. From the goal, Chantel Jones quipped to her former ACC rival McCarty that she was getting flashbacks.

The roster was complete, but still far from full strength. Candace Chapman and Robyn Gayle sat out the first phase of practice. Colleen Williams had at last been cleared for a little bit of activity and immediately reminded everyone what they were missing with a few powerful finishes, but after a few minutes, she was back with the trainer in distress and frustration.

Gayle joined the fray in the scrimmage, with Jorden admonishing her to take herself out if anything hurt. She was able to get wide, but her teammates had trouble finding her.

The highlight of the short-field, small-numbers scrimmage: Jasmyne Spencer, one of the shortest players in the game, looped a header over a bemused Lloyd Yaxley.

The Spirit players still barely knew their own capabilities, much less those of the Breakers. Diana Matheson summed up what she knew about Washington’s first opponent:

“They’re in Boston, they’re called the Breakers,” Matheson said. “I know the Canadians on the team.”

“All the teams are a little bit up in the air right now,” she conceded.

Friday, April 12

The last practice at home before the first road trip was intense.

Lori Lindsey spoke up as the defense ran through a ball-movement drill. “Are we gonna talk about that?” she yelled toward the coaches. The question was Kika Toulouse’s positioning. “If that’s HAO (Heather O’Reilly, the national team veteran Toulouse would likely face on the wing), she’s going to get in there all day,” Lindsey protested.

The water break turned into a tactics discussion. Players held six separate conversations about positioning.

The team quickly went over free kicks. Five players lined up as a wall. “That’s the five in the wall?” Ashlyn Harris asked. Yes, came the reply. “With that height?” she asked with some disdain. Diana Matheson, posing an obstacle of barely 5 feet at one end of the wall, laughed a little.

By this point, it was clear Alina Garciamendez would not be joining the Spirit. A release from the Mexican federation listed the 12 Mexican players who would be in the league, including the as-yet-unreported Teresa Worbis for the Spirit. But it also mentioned four players who would not join their NWSL teams. One failed to finish rehab from an injury. Two others flunked physicals. And Garciamendez chose to sign with Frankfurt after finishing her education at Stanford.

So other than Worbis and “Unnamed Euro,” the practice included everyone who was going to play for the Spirit in the foreseeable future. And everyone was facing reality.

Ali Krieger summed it up: “Now it’s like, ‘You know what? This is real. This is really happening. We have a game on Sunday, and we have to bring it.’”

The national team defender had seen some improvement since her departure for national team duty. And she didn’t care about preseason results, thinking back to how little they meant in WPS.

“The year New Jersey (Sky Blue) won, they lost every single preseason game. Those preseason games were a great test. Everyone needed to play. Not many of those players may play during the season. They’re test games, they’re friendlies. You beat teams 8-0, that’s not fun either. So these tests are really good for us.”

Krieger was still a relatively young player but had more club experience than most of her national teammates. She had played for several incarnations of the Washington Freedom, including the WPS team on a brief loan in 2009. She had spent most of her professional career with Frankfurt in Germany.

Frankfurt is a perennial power in Germany, with wealthy ownership willing to pay a full-time professional salary for most players. Some had other jobs, out of necessity or affectation. But she was happy to play at home — or at least within commuting range.

“I’m in Northern Virginia. I feel it’s healthy for me to live away from the workplace. My friends live in the area where I am now. It’s really nice to get away and have a social life. I always want that part of my life to always be there. So I have work and soccer in one place. It’s nice to have some separation and live outside of this area.”

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