No one injured in Spirit-Breakers game

Neither the Washington Spirit nor the Boston Breakers tanked Saturday night’s game to get the No. 1 draft pick. For once, my prediction was right.

But it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t notice any Spirit Academy kids in the crowd, and that’s probably for the best. You don’t want them to learn anything from this. Two own goals by the same luckless player, former Breaker Kassey Kallman. No shots for the home team in the first half. Fouls that weren’t particularly malicious but just pointless. Passes that clattered into opponents.

The Breakers played hard, and aside from two maybe-overdue yellow cards, they played fairly. Own goals are often a mix of luck and getting the ball in good spots, and the Breakers got the ball in good spots many times in the first 10 minutes of the second half, turning a 0-0 snoozer into a 3-0 game with a bit of life.

And the Spirit didn’t pack it in. Two terrific strikes were called back due to close but probably correct offside calls. The silver lining (coincidentally, the Rilo Kiley song of the same name is now playing on my Spotify mix) for the Spirit: They put the ball in the net four times! Too bad two counted against them and the other two didn’t count at all.

Late in the game, those of us in the pressbox were wondering why Breakers coach Matt Beard was so animated, chastising his team and gesticulating wildly. After the game, the thoughtful and tactically shrewd coach explained that he was legitimately worried that the Spirit might come back, like Sky Blue has on more than one occasion this season. When you haven’t won a road game in a while, a little paranoia is understandable.

So yes, both teams were trying. It wasn’t just a couple of teams tanking to land Andi Sullivan in the 2018 draft. At this point, the Spirit seem destined to land their hometown hero. And tonight, they looked like they needed her. Some of the players on the field simply were not up to the task.

And it’s not as if the Spirit have many other options. They dressed 14 players for the game. (The Breakers, also limping toward the finish line of the season and missing game-changer Rose Lavelle, only dressed 15.)

Coach Jim Gabarra said quite candidly after the game that his team really didn’t have the training they needed to prepare. Too many games in a short time. Too many injuries.

“So you didn’t think it would be a good idea to run your players through a series of intense practice in 90-degree weather with only three available subs?” I asked (paraphrased).

“Probably not,” Gabarra said.

Spirit fans weren’t about to forget the birthday of their last remaining original player, Tori Huster.

Spare a thought for Spirit fans who’ve attended most of the games this season. They’ve seen a lot of bad soccer, and it’s not all from the home team.

Maybe it’s a strange thing to say about a team in last place, but the Spirit overachieved in many ways this season. Stephanie Labbe and Estelle Johnson were having great seasons until they abruptly ended a couple of weeks ago. Arielle Ship was better than expected. Meggie Dougherty Howard was way better than expected — even people who wish the next hurricane would race up the Potomac and destroy the Maryland SoccerPlex because they so despise Spirit ownership have pegged the late third-round draft pick as a solid pick for Rookie of the Year.

But Spirit fans really haven’t been treated to a lot of quality from their visitors, either. Portland showed little in Mark Parsons’ return to the SoccerPlex. Orlando wasn’t quite the Morgan-and-Marta juggernaut they later became. The Chicago Red Stars looked like they were playing old-school roller derby. The best game of the season, oddly enough, may have been the previous Spirit-Breakers game, when Boston goalkeeper Abby Smith flat-out robbed the Spirit (legally) of a win.

Call it bad luck, compounded by some personnel moves that will leave some lasting bitterness. Frankly, the quality of play in the NWSL has been poor this season. If you want to blame anyone, blame the referees who’d rather carry on conversations with players like Allie Long and McCall Zerboni rather than give them cards for any of the 349 fouls they commit each game. That needs to change.

One thing that’s not going to change — the occasional late-season game between tired, ailing teams at the bottom of the table. And if this game proved one thing, it’s that the women’s game is not ready for promotion and relegation, no matter how many U.S. Soccer presidential candidates try to win points by promising it. These coaches can’t afford a training injury, and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by tossing Rose Lavelle or Cheyna Williams out on the field at this point just so they can avoid swapping places with WPSL champion Fire And Ice SC. (Granted, if the problem with Lavelle is that she’s flying too much, may I suggest a bus with adequate sleeping space? And no, I have no idea what possessed anyone to name a team “Fire And Ice.” Does Shy Ronnie play for them?)

Even in a no-good, horrible, very bad game such as this, you’ll see moments of quality. Smith didn’t have to pull the mind-boggling saves she made last time to get the shutout this time, but she was terrific when she needed to be. Mallory Pugh adds life to any attack, whether it’s the U.S. national team in full flight or whichever players the Spirit can scrape together around her.

The Spirit will be better-prepared when Seattle visits for the season finale. I’m predicting a 6-5 game with 30 saves. We’re due.

 

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Spirit-Breakers, before the deluge

Concentrating on soccer was rather difficult this afternoon. When we weren’t checking updates on Charlottesville, we were checking the weather. A couple of minutes after the final whistle, the SoccerPlex lightning-detection system kicked into gear, and we all had a wet drive home.

But the game deserves some mention, even if it was basically a showdown between two teams battling for eighth place in a 10-team league. It ended 2-2, which won’t propel either team to seventh place, let alone a playoff berth that’s surely unattainable by this point.

Even with only one team below them in the standings, I’d argue both teams have overachieved this season. They’re both young teams, and between them, their injury lists nearly comprise a strong starting 11. But today, the Spirit played inspired soccer in stretches, while the Breakers showed plenty of resilience.

Boston coach Matt Beard wasn’t quite pleased, though — at least, as far as we could tell while conducting interviews in a gym where several youth basketball games were in progress. (As Lloyd Yaxley once put it: Why would someone invent such a noisy game?) Beard’s view: Goalkeeper Abby Smith had a terrific performance, the team took advantage of its opportunities to score two goals, and the Breakers turned the ball over far too often.

Washington coach Jim Gabarra was also unhappy, though in his case, it was his ongoing concern that referees simply aren’t calling enough fouls to protect players. He had a point, in this game and through the season, though Breakers fans may rightly wonder why Caprice Dydasco wiped out Tiffany Weimer twice in the opening minutes. Maybe the Millennials really want anyone over 30 to disappear?

(The ref gave Dydasco a few stern words, which apparently helped. But other players are a little less receptive to the “Hi, could you please stop running over your opponent?” school of officiating.)

Other than that, it’s hard to draw any long-term conclusions from this game. I’d wanted to see if the Spirit’s youth movement was for real, but their younger attackers were a bit erratic today after a busy stretch of games. They were more dangerous when Cheyna Williams came in, and that’s not the first time I’ve said that this season.

I can’t judge the Breakers’ youth movement as long as Rose Lavelle is out. They’re a different team without her.

But both teams have a lot of potential to be better next season. Neither team has had much luck with injuries, and the Spirit could certainly feel they deserved better today.

And it was certainly entertaining. Best of all, they managed to squeeze in the whole game before the storms hit. We were told Lifetime would cut to a movie if the game was scrubbed, and the world doesn’t need that. Seeing a bunch of young athletes with skill and potential was a lot better than that, and it was a nice diversion on a day in which we really needed it.

Quick Breakers-Spirit thoughts

Take the internationals off two of the top teams in the NWSL, and what do you get? A Breakers team trying to shut down Crystal Dunn by any legal means necessary and sneak one on the counterattack.

And to Boston’s credit, it more or less worked. Sure, the Spirit outshot the Breakers 16-8, and Boston’s Jami Kranich made eight saves to Kelsey Wys’ one. But Kranich didn’t really have to stand on her head in this one. Her best save may have been on Christine Nairn’s 45-yard on-target effort, though she gave up a rebound that could’ve been dangerous. Kranich could’ve done nothing to stop Amanda Da Costa’s blast from the top of the box, and Wys was wrong-footed by Maddy Evans’ deflected strike a couple of minutes later.

Final: 1-1

Boston coach Tom Durkin said he wished Nairn and Dunn had been in Canada for the World Cup. A lot of people around the NWSL surely feel the same way.

The Spirit played attractive soccer, using the wings effectively and enjoying a lot of possession. But by the end, they were whacking the ball in Dunn’s general direction, hoping she could beat four defenders and score. She often beat three, but not the fourth.

So the lingering question here is the Spirit attack. Three chances wound up at Joanna Lohman’s feet, which seems like an unusual fluke of circumstances. Dunn had six shots; Nairn had five. Shouldn’t someone else be in there?

Granted, the Breakers had much less going up front. Morgan Marlborough and Stephanie McCaffrey were credited with zero shots. But the defense held, and the midfielders got a few shots.

Both teams are in good shape to move through the next few weeks without the internationals in play. It’s going to look a little different after that.

NWSL: Spirit, Breakers and the end of reality

What really happened at the Maryland SoccerPlex last night?

We know the Washington Spirit got a 3-3 draw with the Boston Breakers in familiar fashion — a Diana Matheson penalty kick in the final minutes.

But even after going through the video and photos like JFK conspiracy theorists (hmmm — the Plex does have a grassy knoll, though it’s tough to hide in the beer garden), we’ve got no shortage of contrasting opinions on these topics:

The first PK (2:20 into the game). Did Boston deserve a penalty kick when Niki Cross fell next to Jazmine Reeves in the box, just 2:20 into the game? The video is unclear, and commentators Michael Minnich and Danielle Malagari (who are not the homers we hear on so many other NWSL broadcasts) were stunned when the teams lined up for the PK.

One photo from the end line catches the key moment. Is Reeves’ foot trapped under Cross? Or is that just scant, incidental contact that shouldn’t make Reeves fall so easily?

One note Boston coach Tom Durkin raised after the game: Isn’t this a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity? To me, the fact that Cross wasn’t carded suggests the ref wasn’t fully sold on the call.

The second PK (5:58). This time, Ali Krieger definitely made contact with Nkem Ezurike. Maybe a little harsh, but the contact makes it a reasonable call. (Remember that. We’ll return to this principle in a minute.)

The red card to Maddy Evans (69:16). This call also shocked Minnich and Malagari. Ashlyn Harris, in her postgame comments, wondered if it was some belated attempt by the ref to take control of the game. I have no problem with it. Yes, Evans missed Lori Lindsey’s leg, and we can all be thankful for that. But she came sliding in hard, nowhere near the ball. You don’t have to make contact to get a foul. If I try to punch you on the field, it doesn’t matter if I hit you in the face or miss and break my hand on the goal post. I’m off. Evans deserved the red and needs a stern lecture from her team or the league.

The Harris “shove” (86:42). I’ve watched it scores of times, and I basically see a “get your hands off me” gesture with no force behind it. I can see how others might see it in a more belligerent light. As tightly as this ref was calling this game, it seems fair to say he would have acted if he had felt accosted. The other incidents happened quickly, and it’s tough to gauge how much contact took place. For this one, the ref felt whatever contact Harris made and what force she used. But then it’s the league taking a closer look:

The final PK (89:15). You can say Jodie Taylor fell a little easily, and some people have. But that doesn’t mean no foul happened. Former Spirit defender Bianca Sierra had her hands around Taylor. They kept moving, she fell, the ref blew the whistle. If you want to say it’s a soft make-up call, fine. But it’s hardly beyond the pale, and you’d have to say it’s consistent with the standard set earlier in the game.

The rest of the game. Let’s say for sake of argument that referee Dimitar Chavdarov got all five of the major flashpoints correct, or at the very least that he was consistent in his PK calls. The players still wouldn’t have been happy.

Consider these quotes (and read Sarah Gehrke’s piece at The Soccer Desk for more complete transcriptions):

Spirit coach Mark Parsons, cleverly choosing vague words: “There were a couple of moments where our players almost lost their cool because I think the players were put in situations they shouldn’t have been put in.”

Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris: “It was just one of those games where everyone was kind of just losing control. I think the ref kind of let things get out of hand.” She said the refs let down the Spirit and Boston.

And Durkin, while also questioning whether his team can ever get a fair shot, agreed that both teams struggled to comprehend the officiating.

A few other areas of general agreement:

Traffic surely killed some of the walkup crowd. Took me two and a half hours to get to the SoccerPlex from Northern Virginia, most of that time on the Beltway and I-270. An accident on 270 was cleared just as rush hour started, and traffic didn’t quite catch up. Another accident blocked the GW Parkway, leaving people stranded if they were trying to come up from the district.

The Spirit defense made three horrific blunders. PKs or not, Cross and Krieger had ill-timed slips when dealing with attacks they should’ve been able to handle with ease. These aren’t rookie center backs any more. These are veteran pros. (Better defending up the field would’ve prevented such 1-on-1s, too.) Then Crystal Dunn, already on the wrong side of Reeves, slipped and left Reeves alone with the ball for goal No. 3.

The Spirit missed a few chances. “We can’t miss three sitters,” Harris said.

Harris is an exciting keeper-sweeper: “High risk, high reward. There are some sketchy times. But if I’m not there, it’s just a foot race, and who knows what could happen.”

Also, if no one’s in the box, you can’t give up a PK, right? “As long as I was outside the 18 and everyone else was, we were OK.”

Jazmine Reeves is the real deal. She’s fast, she works hard, and she can shoot. Steal of the draft.

“Our rookie strikers, Nkem and Jazmine Reeves, are getting better and better with every game this season,” Heather O’Reilly said. “Nkem is very strong and holds the ball up well. Jazmine obviously is very quick and made the defense work today.”

The last two are the big takeaways. The Spirit will need to tune up this rebuilt defense. NWSL teams will need to figure out how to contend with Reeves.

A few other takeaways:

Breakers love the long ball, and they should: “Direct” is a dirty word these days. Everyone wants to play like Barcelona. But if you have defenders like Cat Whitehill and speedsters with ball control like Reeves, why would you not go long a few times a game? That’s like telling a boxer not to punch with her right hand because the left hand is so much prettier.

And it’s getting the Breakers what they want. Durkin (and others) disputed the notion that the Breakers gave up more chances than they created, with the Breakers coach going so far as to cast aspersions on home teams’ stat-keeping. You could put 100 stat-keepers in isolated rooms in front of that same game, and they’re all going to tell you the Spirit created more good opportunities than the Breakers. But the Breakers may feel it was even because they created just enough. Get Reeves and company a few chances, and then in Naeher we trust.

Harris: “They have threatening speed up top, and they just look to whack it. A lot of their ball are bending, quality balls behind the back line.”

Emotion got the better of people who should know better: Why were Durkin and Harris arguing after the game? Why did Harris and Krieger, “shove” accusation notwithstanding, react so badly to Reeves just trying to pressure the ball?

Krieger is the Spirit’s captain this season. But while others were staying calm, she was fussing at Reeves after picking up a yellow card. Then after the game, in violation of NWSL rules, she declined interviews. That’s questionable leadership.

We know Durkin has a challenge with the Breakers. A quick peek at the standings will tell you that.

But Parsons has a tall task with the Spirit as well. The midfield and forwards are clicking — Lindsey creates chances, Christine Nairn is a long-range shooting threat, Tori Huster is thriving in her new central midfield role, and Lisa de Vanna and Diana Matheson are a dangerous attacking punch behind proven scorer Jodie Taylor. But the defense is still in transition, with no shortage of talent but questionable poise and a few tactical questions to sort out.

“Portland (a 6-1 loss in the Spirit’s last home game) was crazy,” Parsons said. “I think that’s self-inflicted. Tonight, some very extreme events happened. If it happens for a third time … (pause) … we’ve got a lot of training.”

And while the referee may not have been up to the task last night, everyone else needs to step up and dial back the shenanigans. We used to be able to say women’s soccer players didn’t flop and dive. No more. (At least they don’t writhe around as if shot.) I’m starting to see more reckless or even intentional brutality in this league than I see in most men’s leagues. Team officials don’t need to be leading the heckling from the stands.

Time to respect the game. Then maybe I won’t get 1,300 words into a game report without mentioning de Vanna’s sublime cross to Taylor for the first Spirit goal and other great highlights.

Speaking of which — here’s the game in full. Joanna Lohman has a great block on a Matheson shot at 13:20. The Taylor goal is at 27:30. Reeves’ well-taken goal is around the 44-minute mark. Taylor’s second (a scramble off a close-range free kick) is at 55:45. Taylor bids for the hat trick with an audacious chip at 58:10. The lightning delay is at 64:54. Krieger just misses the equalizer at 82:25.

Harris: “You could (after the two PKs) put your head down and just say it’s not our day. But we continued to fight, we continued to battle. We had chances to win that game.”

Enjoy.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston: Defenders down

Hard to imagine a game more emblematic of the Spirit’s season:

– A defender was injured.

– The officials were atrocious, though they probably didn’t affect the outcome too terribly.

– The result was worse than the Spirit deserved.

– The fans stuck with the team. Take away the storms that magically cleared just before game time but killed their walk-up crowd, and the team would’ve drawn a respectable 3,000 or 3,500. The Spirit has one more midweek game, then two weekend games with a lot of drawing power — Seattle (Solo, Rapinoe) and Sky Blue (season finale). With decent weather, I’d expect 4,000 for each of those.

We had some debate last night about how much of a role luck has played in the Spirit’s season. I’d look at it this way: Let’s say the Spirit’s luck was even in the first six games (debatable, but let’s say it for sake of argument). They were 1-2-3 for six points. Extrapolate that over 18 games, and they would have 18 points — tied with Seattle for seventh place.

Instead, they’re 0-5-1 since Mark Parsons took over. He warned that getting the team on track would take a couple of games. Then his entire starting defense was injured.

This team could be starting Harris, Gayle, Chapman, Pressley, Krieger, Huster, Lindsey, Matheson, Pohlers, Ochs and Miller. Maybe even Jordan Angeli. An injury or two? Bring in Toulouse or Roberts.

Last night’s starters? Harris, Toulouse, Huster, Chapman, Taylor, Roberts, Lindsey, Matheson, Pohlers, Ochs, Spencer.

The youngsters and the misplaced players weren’t bad. The Spirit’s first goal — the first in the run of play since D.C. was covered in spring pollen — came through a superb, composed pass from Jasmyne Spencer, who had her best game.

Then within five minutes, Chapman was out. Boston scored the equalizer before the Spirit could replace her with Holly King.

Lindsay Taylor, a top scorer in college, had never played defense in a game before last night. King is at least a defensive midfielder. Each of them had a few strong plays at the back. But Heather O’Reilly is a handful for any defender. In the first Spirit-Breakers game, she ran at the relatively inexperienced Kika Toulouse on the Spirit’s left. In this game, she left Toulouse alone and ran on the other side of the field. That’s almost unfair.

At halftime, the Spirit had every reason to feel they were in the game. And they did indeed get that second goal, again from the run of play and finally getting that well-deserved opener from Conny Pohlers. But the third goal early in the second half was the dagger, with Ashlyn Harris bobbling a save and failing to collect it before Rhian Wilkinson ran in to pop it into the net.

Make no mistake — the Breakers deserved this win. They’re inconsistent but not bad. They outhustled the Spirit for the second and third goals. O’Reilly is still a fantastic winger. While the Spirit set up as many chances as the Breakers in the first half, Parsons lamented that the Breakers were making his team chase the ball. He doesn’t like that. Lisa Cole had to be thrilled. But as the Spirit’s record doesn’t reflect the talent and effort on display, 5-2 doesn’t reflect this game.

I asked Cat Whitehill what happened on her goal, the Breakers’ fifth. “It was luck,” she said.

Maybe the Spirit will know what that feels like one day.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston: Better never than late

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. When I mentioned that I needed to watch the Spirit’s 3-0 loss to Boston at some point, several people urged me to reconsider.

And I can’t say I’m glad I ignored that advice. This was a dreary game on a dreary night in Boston. No, the Spirit didn’t play particularly well. But neither did Boston, aside from player of the week Lianne Sanderson, the energetic Kyah Simon and the reliable Kia McNeill.

The field was one culprit in the general disarray. You’d think the Breakers would be used to Dilboy Stadium’s nasty carpet and narrow confines by now, but apparently not. On a rare Spirit corner kick, Heather O’Reilly protested when the ref tried to move her 10 yards away. O’Reilly was standing just outside the box. The hashmark showing the 10-yard distance away from the corner is clearly inside the box. Zoom in and see for yourself:

[cetsEmbedGmap src=https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Dilboy+Stadium,+110+Alewife+Brook+Pkwy,+Somerville,+MA&hl=en&ll=42.41154,-71.132131&spn=0.00038,0.00066&sll=38.003385,-79.420925&sspn=4.699838,10.821533&oq=dilboy&t=h&hq=Dilboy+Stadium,+110+Alewife+Brook+Pkwy,+Somerville,+MA&z=21 width=350 height=425 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

(I think they may have re-lined the field since this was taken — I recall the hashmark even further inside the box, but that may be a matter of perspective.)

The other culprit was the lenient referee. The Spirit may have had a shout for a penalty kick when debut starter Jasmyne Spencer was hauled down in the box, but the Breakers could have asked how Julia Roberts was winning so many midfield battles by armbar.

Boston wasn’t as dominant in the first half as I would’ve expected after seeing the stats. “Shots on goal: 0” is the kind of stat you expect from a USA-Iceland game, not an NWSL game between teams that had drawn their first two matches. Yet the Spirit wasn’t overrun, and I don’t think the young forwards deserve much criticism. Tiffany McCarty was active throughout, and she set up Spencer for a good chance or two. But Diana Matheson isn’t going to sneak up on anyone any more, and the rest of the Spirit midfield didn’t create much.

Let’s just focus on the two highlights, one for each side:

– Sanderson’s first assist was sublime. I don’t even know how she saw O’Reilly behind her, but she flipped the ball over her shoulder perfectly into the speedy winger’s path. O’Reilly was lucky that Tori Huster had just taken a step back, keeping her onside, but it would’ve been a shame to waste a pass like that.

– Chantel Jones slammed the door on Katie Schoepfer’s penalty kick.

So now the Spirit will have three weeks to regroup. Literally. Teresa “Lupita” Worbis has joined the team, and she may not be the only one. The Spirit has long talked about its mysterious fifth free agent, a defender based in Europe. Then Steven Goff tweeted today that an attacker with German national team experience may join the team before its next game. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. (But they’re also not public yet for a reason. If the Spirit could announce a big player signing right now, I’m sure they’d shout it from the mountaintops. Or at least the top of one of the hills at the SoccerPlex.)

In the meantime, if you haven’t already watched this game … don’t. The NWSL archive at YouTube has far better selections.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston: Ties, ties, ties!

Here’s a quick look at the top-to-bottom competitiveness of the NWSL:

– The Boston Breakers are unbeaten.

– The Washington Spirit is winless.

– The Breakers and Spirit have played twice.

– Both games have been ties.

The games have followed different paths. On the narrow carpet of the Breakers’ home ground, in both teams’ debut, the Breakers controlled midfield but didn’t have many attack options beyond hoofing the ball toward Sydney Leroux. That’s not a knock on the Breakers — if you’ve had little time together, that’s not a bad option. The Spirit got an early goal against the run of play and held on until stoppage time, when Leroux finally got the equalizer.

This time, the Breakers had a strong start, forcing Spirit keeper Ashlyn Harris into action twice in the early going. But the Spirit midfield showed how much it’s grown since Game 1, gradually asserting control of the game.

Naturally, they conceded a goal. And it came about through two former D.C. United Women’s players, Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson, who spent some time socializing with their former teammates on the Washington Spirit Reserves when their bus arrived at the SoccerPlex. Sanderson drew two defenders and found Lohman open. Solid finish, 1-0.

So the Spirit had nothing to show for one of its strongest halves of the season. And it got worse.

Candace Chapman, playing her first game of the season, wasn’t fully fit to go 90 minutes. Subbing her out of the game after 45 minutes wasn’t a big surprise. But then Ali Krieger, one of the Spirit’s MVPs of the season so far, was going out. The Spirit resumed action with Kika Toulouse and Domenica Hodak replacing the international veterans.

“Precautionary,” Spirit coach Mike Jorden said of Krieger’s replacement. “She was feeling pain a little bit, and it’s so early in the season, we didn’t want to risk anything.”

Then the Spirit played, by far, its best half of the season. Starting with this:

Getting on the scoresheet this season was a matter of time for Lori Lindsey, but I’m not sure anyone expected something quite as emphatic.

The Spirit outshot the Breakers 5-1 in the second half, with four shots on goal to Boston’s 0. The Spirit had six corner kicks to Boston’s 0.

But the Spirit couldn’t really make much of those corner kicks. They’re not the tallest team, though Stephanie Ochs and Tori Huster are viable options. And the ref was letting them play, even when Huster was run over by a few Breakers in the box.

Boston still made a late surge, with Leroux left to rue …

Let me start that again: Boston still made a late surge, with Leroux regretting a miss from close range. When Heather O’Reilly is on the field, the counterattack is always a viable option.

Washington had one more good chance, with Caroline Miller making her now-customary sub appearance and late shot on goal to produce the opposing keeper’s best save of the night. One of these days, that shot is going in, and the Spirit will have its first win.

But the Spirit players and coaches were in a good mood despite finishing its four-game homestand without a win. They knew they were showing signs of improvement. Ashlyn Harris was in a playful mood postgame, praising the fill-in defenders and getting a good laugh when the Spirit’s backdrop for the postgame interviews fell on Ingrid Wells.

And Jorden was a good mood for someone whose midweek back surgery forced him to miss a few practices and will keep him out of this week’s trip to Seattle and Portland. Kris Ward will lead the team to the Northwest.

Washington Spirit at Boston Breakers: See, that wasn’t so bad

You all almost had me convinced. All the last-place predictions. All the caterwauling over the preseason results. Put the Washington Spirit in last place and use the Sharpie, everyone said.

That same Spirit team led most of the way Sunday in its NWSL debut on the trampolining turf of Dilboy Stadium, the Boston Breakers’ packed home ground. And Tiffany McCarty’s goal wasn’t even the Spirit’s best shot of the night — she didn’t make clean contact on her header off Ingrid Wells’ cross, but it found its way into the net. Diana Matheson rattled the crossbar on a shot that goalkeeper Ashley Phillips just managed to deflect. Phillips came up big on a Stephanie Ochs effort as well.

That’s not quite the same Spirit team that lost two preseason games. Matheson sparked the attack from various points on the field, shooting from long range and finding the sneaky Lori Lindsey in the box for a golden opportunity. Fellow Canadian Robin Gayle marshaled the defense and played a solid game at center back. Ali Krieger matched Boston’s speedsters stride for stride and made a couple of last-ditch saving tackles. Ashlyn Harris made a series of big saves as the Spirit protected its lead late, and she bravely came out to collect under heavy pressure from Sydney Leroux.

Harris was down for a bit, but Leroux has the gnarly reminder of what happened then and elsewhere in the game …

And then there’s the refrain we’ll hear quite often this season — The Kids Are Alright. Ochs and McCarty challenged the experienced Boston backs. Julia Roberts was composed alongside Lindsey at holding mid. Wells, who was quiet much of the preseason, was an offensive sparkplug who set up the game’s lone goal.

Boston’s Cat Whitehill said after the game it was unfair to write off the Spirit based on preseason results. She was expecting a tough game and she got it.

For the Breakers’ part, Boston’s fans should enjoy their trips to Dilboy, aside from the occasional cold and the blinding glare that makes visors and sunglasses mandatory first-half equipment. The Breakers have solid veterans in many positions on the field. Heather O’Reilly is always entertaining on the wing. Kyah Simon is an enthusiastic shooter.

Then there’s Leroux, who always seemed to be the most likely scorer for Boston and finally tied it near the end with a classy finish from a difficult angle. The sellout crowd got its reward, and 1-1 was a fair result.

I may follow up with some quotes when I don’t have a dawn wake-up call to get back home. But the moral of tonight’s story is this:

Forget preseason. It’s on now.

Boston Breakers statement on WPS

I’ll have more analysis at some point over the weekend, in case my story and analysis at espnW aren’t enough for you.

But I wanted to go ahead and pass this along from my inbox …

May 18, 2012 (NORWOOD, MA) – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) further announces today that the efforts of all teams over the past six months have regrettably lead to the conclusion that the league cannot continue forward despite the efforts of all teams. MagicJack did everything possible to try and keep the league together and succeed as well. MagicJack helped keep the league alive in 2011. Unfortunately, collectively the ownership could not reconcile their differences about how to run the league and what the appropriate financial model for teams should be for sustainability and jointly made the decision to cease operations.

Boston Breakers’ managing partner, Michael Stoller, stated “Dan Borislow built a terrific team that created a great level of fan support and created a strong attendance boost after the World Cup ended for the league and each team. I know many players on the MagicJack team were very happy and would love to play for Dan again in the future. Unfortunately, collectively we decided that the number of issues we faced as a league, along with the overall economic considerations, were just too much to overcome presently.”

Thoughts?

D.C. United Women and Boston Breakers: A W-League/WPSL friendly

The leagues may have a fractious history, but second-year W-League club D.C. United Women welcomed the WPSL Elite League’s Boston Breakers (formerly of the WUSA and WPS) to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday.

Play was a little ragged, as you might expect from one team (D.C.) that barely had time for introductions and another (Boston) that is still very much in early-season form. And as you’d expect, the professional team with a bit more preseason practice and a game under its belt (Boston) had the better of play and won 1–0.

But D.C. United Women had a few good moments as well as some sensational play on defense and in goal.

I caught a few highlights on video and spoke with many of the players.

Crowd wasn’t bad — definitely 1,000, maybe more — on a beautiful night.