The driving distance from Providence Park to the Maryland SoccerPlex is 2,785 miles. Google Maps says I can do it in 41 hours.
But is the relationship between the Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit a rivalry?
“For me, yeah,” said former Spirit and current Thorns midfielder Hayley Raso with little hesitation. “It’s hard to leave a club the way I did, so coming back here, I feel like I have something to prove.”
Raso is a young soft-spoken Australian who was happy to see Boyd, the SoccerPlex’s field-maintenance dog — “he’s cute,” she said — and doesn’t seem like the sort of person who’d be in the middle of controversy. She had a few fouls tonight and picked up a yellow card (which I missed because I foolishly thought the Thorns might dart through the press area before I got there, so I was heading down to the field) at the final whistle. But this was nothing like the professional agitators so many NWSL teams employ.
And yet, there was an incident immediately after the whistle (again, I missed it) between Washington coach Jim Gabarra and Portland coach Mark Parsons — who was, of course, the man who led the Spirit to consecutive playoff appearances before Portland hired him away. I understand Gabarra didn’t comment (I missed the last part of his comments to catch Raso), but Parsons …
Bear in mind — Parsons didn’t turn up to the postgame interviews with a bright-red face and a hoarse voice from screaming. He thought we didn’t want to talk with him, the result of a miscommunication between some non-PR Spirit staffers and Nadine Angerer, the Thorns’ goalkeeper coach/visiting PR contact. When I suggested to him that perhaps the Thorns could invest some of their gate receipts from their five-figure home crowds in an actual PR contact who isn’t also the goalkeeper coach, he gave me a playful pinch on the arm.
And he was gracious to his former team.
“The Spirit were very good. Packed house (attendance over 4,000) for them tonight, and I know what a packed house does — we have it at home. It pushes you. They caused us some problems, and we struggled to break them down.”
Indeed they did. The Thorns had 62.7% of the possession but generated few chances.
“I don’t think they had any clear possession in our final third,” Gabarra said. “It was all the middle of the park or their half.”
This week may bring a screeching halt to goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe’s weekly nomination(s) for Save of the Week.
“That’s GREAT news!” Labbe laughed. “I guess? I know, they’re killing my saves here, you know? But that was awesome. I can’t even remember having to make a dive at all. Defensively, I thought we played so well and kept everyone in front of us. With so many attacking threats, I think it was almost a good thing for us because we didn’t have to focus on one person, we focused on the whole team.”
Spirit fans are used to seeing Estelle Johnson’s magical recovery power, and they can trust in Shelina Zadorsky’s steady presence at center back. The improvement has been a collective effort, but Zadorsky’s central partner Whitney Church deserves special mention. The thought of putting Church up against Christine Sinclair might’ve seemed frightening in the past. But Church was steady tonight.
Midfielder Tori Huster: “I thought we had really tight lines for the most part. I thought our back four did perfectly. They were dropping when they needed to drop, and I think Whitney had probably 20 headers that we really needed her to have, and they could’ve been a lot more dangerous had she not headed them. I thought she had an outstanding game.”
And yes, that’s Huster, the midfield rock who has been missing with an injury for the last few games. She was so happy to be back on the field that she was still signing autographs 45 minutes after the whistle.
Washington is one of two NWSL teams that doesn’t have a midweek game on Wednesday. Portland has to face perplexing but dangerous Kansas City.
“Individually, we have to look at our performances and examine how we did and go back to work and make sure we’re fixing those things we didn’t do well,” said defender Meghan Klingenberg, who spent much of the game pressed forward on the flank. “And collectively, figure out what we didn’t do well. And fix those things for Wednesday, because it’s a quick turnaround.”
But Klingenberg declined to make any Carli Lloyd-style comments about her teammates. “My teammates are amazing! They work their butts off. I don’t care if we win or lose, I would choose to play with them more than any other team.”
And in any case, the game would’ve been much different if not for this:
Ordega and Cheyna Williams were magnificent up front. Williams forced the best Portland save of the night, and Ordega had a sick nutmeg among other sweet moves.
Ordega was especially inspired:
That goal certainly changed the Thorns’ approach.
Raso: “We went down a goal, so I guess we got a bit anxious out there. From the start, we were chasing the game. We probably could’ve played more simple, but when you’re chasing the game, you’re just trying to do what you can do.”
And the Thorns simply looked tense, making a lot of clumsy turnovers and failing to connect in the final third.
Parsons put it in simple terms: “We were just a little bit off tonight, and when you’re playing a team with a bit of momentum, it’s going to be a rough one.”
Other notes from the game:
Spirit owner Bill Lynch heckled Parsons and a few Thorns during the game. But Parsons didn’t seem to notice anything from the stands this time around.
“Last year, I heard a lot of negative, which was pretty cool and fun. That’s when you know women’s soccer’s growing, when players and coaches come back and get harassed in a good, healthy way.”
But things have changed since last year, when the Spirit had most of the same players from Parsons’ last year.
“It’s been a changeover in players, fans and staff. But it’s great coming back. This is a special place for me that I had some great, unbelievable moments with, and I’ll always hold on to that and know that this gave me an opportunity to get in this beautiful game and work with these great female athletes.”
Tony DiCicco’s passing was observed with a moment of silence and armbands. I missed what Gabarra said about him — check with Caitlin Buckley or Jordan Small. Parsons hailed him as a “person and face and heart of women’s soccer,” and he shared a personal anecdote:
“I remember going to watch his NSCAA Convention sessions when I first got here and wanted to learn. I finally had the opportunity to talk to him when I was trying to sign a Japanese girl here at the Spirit. I reached out to Tony. He didn’t have to help me, and he sat there for an hour on the phone telling me everything I needed to know about this Japanese international and walked me through everything. He didn’t know me, he had no tie to the Washington Spirit, he probably had closer ties to other teams. … Now you read what everybody else is saying about him. I experienced that first-hand. He was all about helping anyone in the women’s game and outside the women’s game. We’ve lost a great there. If we can grab the special qualities that he had consistently every week and keep spreading that love and support for everyone in the game, I’m sure he’d be proud.”