I hope no Washington Spirit players are expecting a nice, happy training session when they get back to work next week just because they pulled off a 1-0 win over Sky Blue on Saturday.
“About the 60th minute, I was already thinking about training and I wouldn’t know where to start, because there were about 200 things you would want to touch on,” coach Mark Parsons said. “Last week, when there were a few slip-ups, that’s normal.”
This was not.
Goalkeeper Kelsey Wys might get a pass, having stood her ground against a 21-shot onslaught, nine on goal. Maybe Crystal Dunn, who saved one of those shots off the line and created some opportunities, including a long lob for the winning goal in stoppage time. And Francisca Ordega, who looked like she wouldn’t be able to continue after a first-half knock to her ankle, got on the end of that lob from Dunn and willed the ball past Sky Blue keeper Brittany Cameron for the winner. Besides, it’s Ordega’s last practice before she goes to play for Nigeria in the World Cup.
The rest of the thirteen players who saw the field will be getting an earful.
Thirteen players? Not fourteen? The Spirit didn’t use all three subs.
“I didn’t make more subs because I couldn’t decide who needed to come off more,” Parsons said. “‘Cause it was bad. Really bad. And they know it.”
The backline, Parsons said, was heroic. Not solid and organized, but heroic. Estelle Johnson made a couple of last-second tackles. Whitney Church stood her ground nicely. And they were under pressure because Sky Blue played a much more direct game than the Spirit expected, blasting the ball up to twin forwards Nadia Nadim and Kim DeCesare. Nadim outmuscled Spirit defenders to win several balls, while DeCesare forced Wys’s best save with a clever redirection.
“Fair play to them — they came in with a game plan,” Parsons said. “I thought they were the better team tonight. They didn’t take their opportunities. We stopped them.”
“That’s the best by far we’ve played, the most chances we’ve created,” Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra said. He was planning to be direct the first 10 minutes, anyway, but he decided to stick with it when Sarah Killion (knee) was unable to go.
When the Spirit managed to get forward, which wasn’t often between roughly the 25th and 85th minutes, Dunn and good friend Maya Hayes had a fun battle for a while. Hayes is typically a forward but assigned to the Sky Blue backline this time, shadowing Dunn for much of the game.
“It was really fun to see her out there,” Dunn said. “She’s a forward at heart, and I was joking with her that it’s really weird seeing her back here. She’s really fast, really tenacious.”
Dunn was also whistled offside many, many times. The stats say the Spirit had six offside calls against them — they may all have been against Dunn. Some were questionable. Some weren’t.
But even as the Spirit go through what’s sure to be a serious training session in a couple of days, they can be happy in knowing that they’ve really got something here. Wys is ably filling in for Ashlyn Harris, who’s off with the national team. Dunn, who only had a brief time to re-integrate herself with the Spirit after flying back from fill-in duty in national team camp, is the best American player left in the league with the World Cup players gone. They’ve got Caroline Miller and Tiffany Weimer ready to join the fray with Ordega gone.
And they still have the best field in the league, which held up nicely despite an apocalyptic thunderstorm that pushed the game’s start back a few minutes. Fans stuck it out, and the Spirit drew more than 3,000 on an evening in which driving was a nerve-racking experience.
They won’t get this lucky every night. They might not need to.