‘Enduring Spirit’ epilogue: Thoughts from Diana Matheson

Here’s proof, once again, that soccer karma doesn’t exist:

Through the Spirit office, I asked several players (not all, so don’t go accusing people) a few follow-up questions about the 2014 season, thinking I would publish a short epilogue to the tale of their 2013 season, Enduring Spirit. The epilogue didn’t come to pass, and I wound up passing along what I had gathered in a blog post providing a snapshot of the team at a late-season practice.

The one player who responded was Diana Matheson. And now she’s hurt. Again — no such thing as soccer karma.

She responded before she was injured, which just goes to show how negligent I’ve been in posting her comments. I figured the least I could do was go ahead and post them here with apologies for being so late. I really appreciate her taking the time she did here and over the past two seasons with the Spirit, and I think all women’s soccer fans are rooting for her to recuperate in time for the World Cup.

Enjoy …

1. What was different this season compared to last year? (Besides the record!)

This season had a very different feel in almost every way. We knew from the beginning that we were a team that could compete with any other team in the league and we put higher expectations on ourselves. We had a more experienced group and every player brought their own professionalism to the club.

2. Were practices different with more veterans and few rookies on the roster?

I think training was overall at a higher level than last year. I think that speaks to a different group of players and also the fact that Mark had us for the whole year.

3. Who was the most improved player on the team from 2013 to 2014?

I’m not sure who the most improved player is, but the most unsung player on the team both seasons for me has been Tori Huster. She does the job in any position she’s asked to play.

4. Did you feel in 2013 that defenses were focused on shutting you down, figuring that you didn’t have much help on offense? Was it different in 2014 when Jodie Taylor established herself as a goal-scorer?

It was a lot of fun playing with players like Jodie Taylor this year. I think we had a good connection on the field and we worked well together. It’s always good to have many people scoring goals, which we were glad to have this year.

5. Did Rapinoe foul Toni Pressley when she swiped the ball for the winning goal in the semifinal?

Don’t know.

6. I know your living arrangement changed this year. Where were you?

I was in a townhouse with Robyn, Danesha and Jodie. Robyn and I both missed Ingleside at King Farm and we went to visit our friends a few times for lunch or dinner throughout the season. It was nice to be in a more independent living situation with our peers as well!

‘Enduring Spirit’ epilogue (sort of): An August snapshot

Sometime during the NWSL season, it occurred to me that people might be interested in an epilogue to Enduring Spirit, summing up the team’s successful second season. Perhaps they would be more interested in that than they were in the book on the first season. Perhaps I’d even recoup a bit more of the money I lost writing Enduring Spirit.

Circumstances have conspired against that work being completed. I was sick for a while, and a couple of injured fingers (one broken, one badly sprained) cut into my productivity on the computer keyboard. And the people involved aren’t racing to tell me interesting stories about what happened through the season.

So instead of adding an epilogue to the book and also publishing it separately for the low, low price of 99 cents, I’ve decided to empty out the notebook for anyone who’s interested. I went to a late-season practice to draw a contrast between Season 1 and Season 2, and I had a few interviews worth sharing.

The result: A snapshot of the Washington Spirit on a beautiful August day. Enjoy.

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

Nearly a year since I last saw the Washington Spirit practice, some things hadn’t changed.

Mark Parsons’ voice was still the dominant sound. Lori Lindsey was no longer the captain but was the most vocal of the players on the stadium field, which was in its usual pristine shape despite a hard rain the night before. Emily Fortunato was still the voice of wit and wisdom on the sideline when she wasn’t tending to Ashlyn Harris, who was coming back from concussion symptoms and complained of “heavy legs.”

But a few things were different. Practice seemed a little more serious this time. The impish humor of Conny Pohlers was missing — teammates insisted this year’s German veteran, Kerstin Garefrekes, was also funny, but she wasn’t joking around here. The vertically challenged duo of Diana Matheson and Crystal Dunn clowned around briefly, but the players mostly kept their practice faces on.

This was an older Spirit team. Most of the youngsters had gone elsewhere. Jasmyne Spencer had a productive year with Western New York. Stephanie Ochs, newly converted to the back line, was in Houston with Tiffany McCarty and Kika Toulouse. Holly King and Lindsay Taylor were out of the league. Julia Roberts, waived by the Spirit, wound up in Seattle and got called up briefly to suit up for the Reign. A couple of more experienced players were also gone — Marisa Abegg went back into retirement and started her medical career, Conny Pohlers was back in Germany, and injury-plagued Candace Chapman wasn’t able to make the team.

The Spirit roster still included Caroline Miller, but she had suffered yet another injury setback and wasn’t at practice. Colleen Williams, injured in 2013 just as she broke into the lineup, tried to come back but was waived. She went to Sky Blue in her home state and once again suffered a major knee injury. Between Miller and Williams, the 2013 college draft was surely cursed.

Aside from top pick Dunn, who already had national team experience, Parsons had a roster of experienced pros. Undrafted rookie Bianca Sierra made the team as a hard-nosed (and foul-prone) defender, but Parsons traded her to Boston for talented, oft-controversial attacker Lisa De Vanna.

The rest of the newcomers were experienced. Garefrekes had been a German national team mainstay for years. Danesha Adams’ resume dated back to WPS. Yael Averbuch also played in WPS and was well established in Europe and in the national team pool. Niki Cross and Alex Singer had bounced between WPS and top German teams. Christine Nairn and Renae Cuellar had some success already in the NWSL. So had Veronica Perez, who was most famous for scoring the winning goal in Mexico’s upset of the USA in a World Cup qualifier in 2010. And Jordan Angeli, the WPS star who had tested her oft-injured knee in training with the Spirit in 2013, had come all the way back to get a roster spot this year.

Jodie Taylor was the breakout star. An English forward who made a name for herself in Australia, she shook off an early drought to become one of the most reliable scorers in the league.

So even with veteran attacking pest Tiffany Weimer out of action for the season, the Spirit had a serious infusion of experience. (Weimer also edits Our Game magazine, for which I’ve volunteered a few articles.)

“The quality and experience some of these players bring to the table is second to none,” said Tori Huster, one of the holdovers on the Spirit team. “You look at our roster — you look at our bench, even, in some of these games, and it’s like, ‘Wow, she’s not playing?’ There are some really good quality players on this team that I am lucky to play alongside.”

Parsons had figured out what a lot of the league’s pundits had not: This league eats young players for breakfast. The 2014 draft had a lot of hype, and most of the first-round picks had productive years. But beyond the first round, only five players were consistent starters. In Seattle, Parson’s countrymate Laura Harvey rebuilt through free agency and trades, and Parsons did the same. Leaguewide, the only team that had any success with draftees was Kansas City, where Kassey Kallman and Jenna Richmond were solid role players on a team that thrived on the connection between national team players Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez. Chicago stayed in contention with Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo in key roles. Boston and Houston had several rookies in the mix, and they battled for last place.

So the youthful exuberance was dialed back a bit. This was a Spirit team less prone to fill its Twitter timelines with selfies from the road. In practice, they moved confidently through each drill.

But the biggest difference hanging in the air: This team was in playoff position.

The Spirit had given away a wondrous chance, leading 1-0 at Seattle against the league’s top team before conceding a late goal, a change of pace for a team that was used to scoring those late goals rather than giving them up. The disappointment from that missed opportunity was hanging in the air.

“We’ve done a great job when mistakes happen of learning from it, eliminating it and moving forward,” Parsons said. “Saturday at Seattle, we could’ve killed that game off and managed the game better. The other team want rhythm and intensity. We could’ve done a far better job in the final 10 to break that. I’m not talking about time-wasting, I’m talking about what can we do in the game that slows the opposition down. How do we break up their linking play? …

“I was disappointed, but we’ve got so many situations to learn from.”

Yet the Spirit controlled its own destiny in the season finale — beat Sky Blue, which harbored faint playoff hopes of its own, and Washington would make the playoffs. Even with a loss or draw, Portland and Chicago would have to win their games to knock out the Spirit. There was even a chance the Spirit could clinch in a few hours, depending on Chicago’s midweek game.

Nairn, who had spent 2013 with a non-contender in Seattle, noticed the difference. “Everything is taken a little bit more seriously. It’s a little bit more demanding.”

Huster saw a change in the late-season goals: “There is a little more on the line this year. Last year, I think we were really hungry just to get a point, even. As hungry as we might be just to get a point on this weekend to get into the playoffs — or three points, whatever it may be — also, in the back of our minds, we still have three games left. We’re really hopeful to finish out the season on a good note.”

From Parsons’ perspective, though, the two Spirit seasons had their own challenges.

“Last year, I distinctly remember training sessions — I guess you weren’t there — we got into it more than we did today because what we were working on wasn’t happening,” Parsons said. “And we actually had a heated discussion with a couple of players. Maybe you caught us on a fun day when you last come in (last year). We were focused, ready to get the job done.”

Any heated discussions this year?

“We’ve had a lot,” Parsons said. “I think you have to, otherwise you’re not moving forward. Right now, we’ve had enough struggles, we’ve had enough failure and setbacks to learn from. We’re all very aware of each other right now, in our personalities, and the group is in a great place. Yeah, we’ve had some rocky moments through the season. Nothing too serious, but whether it’s discussion on how hard we’re working, why we’re doing it, or the actual mentality in our previous session or game wasn’t right …

“I think we’re just all on a great page right now. But it’s taken a lot to get there. You have the honeymoon period of preseason — you haven’t put a team sheet out, so everyone is hunky-dory and happy, everyone is bonding well, I think we had an unbelievable preseason. The first 2-3 weeks of every season is really tough unless you’re winning every game and everyone’s getting a bit of action. You start showing your cards, and that’s where managing people and managing top pros who want to play comes in.”

And merely getting to the playoffs, which would happen if the Red Stars faltered, wasn’t enough.

“We’re chasing third (place),” Parsons said. “My mentality, and I shared this with a couple of players yesterday, is (a Chicago loss or tie) gives me a sigh of relief for a couple of seconds. But the target of third place doesn’t change. So we have to win. Because if we don’t win Saturday, we put it in Portland’s hands to go and get third place. … So our target is three points against a team (Sky Blue) that’s had our number this year.”

It wasn’t that the team had dominated opponents, save for a stunning three-goal explosion in the first half against title contender Kansas City early in the season. Instead, they had a knack for the dramatic.

  • May 17: Spirit 3-2 Flash. The Spirit equaled its win total from the previous season with a comeback from a 2-1 deficit in which Western New York made it rather chippy.
  • May 26: Spirit 3-2 Dash. Nairn won it with a stoppage-time blast to the far upper corner from 30 yards out, sending fans to Twitter to lobby for the highlight to be on SportsCenter.


  • July 2: Spirit 3-3 Breakers. A wild game full of controversy. In the 90th minute, former Spirit defender Bianca Sierra made contact with Jodie Taylor, who fell and earned the tying PK.
  • Aug. 2: Spirit 2-1 Red Stars. Late in the game, Ashlyn Harris made a brilliant save, leaping across the goal mouth. (She had been thoroughly checked out by the trainers after a collision early the second half, but concussion symptoms popped up later.) In the dying moments, Matheson sprinted about 20 yards to keep a ball in play. She got the the ball to De Vanna, who expertly held the ball before laying off to Averbuch. Then Averbuch ripped a shot from just outside the box to seal the win over the fellow playoff contenders.


“These rosters don’t really vary that much with talent,” Nairn said of the parity-ridden NWSL. “Sometimes, it’s the team that’s going to put the hardest tackles in, that one sprint that no one wants to make, just the tangible things you can control. You’re not always going to have the best game of your life, but you can control your hustle and your effort and all those things.”

If you were seeing this team for the first time at this practice, you might not get a full impression. Adams, buried on the bench through much of the summer and plugged in at the back line at one point, looked sharp and scored off a turnover. Dunn, a contender for Rookie of the Year, was easily dispossessed when she tried to make a move at midfield. Matheson, no longer carrying the team to the extent that she did in 2013 but still an essential part of the attack, had to laugh at herself after flubbing an easy pass. Lindsey looked and sounded like the team leader despite handing over her captaincy to Ali Krieger at the beginning of the season. Ashlyn Harris didn’t participate in the scrimmage, leaving Chantel Jones facing off against Adelaide Gay, a former Portland keeper who had spent the season with the Spirit Reserves and filled in as the team’s PR liaison when someone abruptly departed a couple of games into the year.

After scrimmaging, many players lingered on the field to work on finishing. Jones had been tagged in the summer’s viral charity event, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and she fulfilled her end of the deal with a loud scream.

“Freeeezing,” Jones said of the ice bucket. “A lot of people, when they do it, they just pour the ice in right before, and it’s not cold. That has been stewing all training, and it was freezing.”

Huster stayed on the field a while. No, she wasn’t adding forward to the list of positions she had played in two years with the Spirit. “Gotta get some extra touches in,” she said.

The former Florida State midfielder had been shoved on to the back line on an emergency basis much of 2013 and parts of 2014. She showed well enough to win the team’s Defender of the Year honors in 2013. This year, she had emerged as a strong midfield cornerstone.

“I played mostly defensive center mid, if not a linking center mid, in college,” Huster said. “So I’m kind of used to that role. But I really hadn’t played there in two to three years. I’ve been outside back, center back and a little bit in the midfield, but not as much as I’d like. It is a little bit of a transition, but with the good players I have around me, it’s pretty easy.”

Huster also felt the team knew it still had a bit to learn.

“The ideas that Mark is giving us as a group overall definitely help us and keep us on the same page,” Huster said. “We still have some work to do there to be on the same page at playoff time.”

The last two players on the field were Adams and Angeli, who had made it back from three years in soccer limbo to get occasional playing time with the Spirit and bring her good attitude everywhere she went. Neither player had seen much time the last few weeks.

Choosing players for the starting 11 or the the traveling party was one of Parsons’ biggest challenges.

It’s tough for the staff, tough for players. When we built the squad, we talked about that, we knew about it. Players that are 26, 27, 28 that have been playing regularly in previous teams or previous leagues — most teams have 13 or 14. There’s not many that has 18, 19, 20 like us. We’ve built that as a strategy. Challenges do come. You look at teams that have almost played the same lineup every week — I’m sure they have their own struggles, but they have some players who are just excited to be on the roster, (and) that’s less challenging.

I’ve made some really tough decisions on traveling. Leaving anyone on this squad at home is probably the hardest decision every week. It’s heartbreaking, it’s tough, but it’s the part we need to get on with.

So it is a tough bench. No matter what we put out, it’s a strong bench. We’re also excited that players have continued to make an impact.

I also feel that building some consistency in the last few weeks is key, which has been really challenging for anyone that is just on the brink of getting into that starting 11. You’ve got to respect that, and you’ve got to respect that everyone wants to play and everyone wants a chance to compete throughout the week to get that opportunity.

One person Parsons admired but frequently omitted: Angeli.

She’s one of the most important people in our changing room and in our team. She got caught on the end of some very tough calls at times. If she is on the sidelines, not playing, then you hear her from the first to the 90th, you hear her before the game, you hear her at halftime, you her at the end. Incredible personality and character. We’re just privileged and very fortunate to have her with us. …

Jordan is an exceptional person. Every single week, every single session she comes out, no matter the day or the weather, with a point to make. It’s been key to keep competition high and key to keep people on their toes. We’re lucky we’ve had her this year. Last year, we missed that.

One more player who popped up in our conversation: Lori Lindsey, the erstwhile captain who was still leading:

“She’s been a leader throughout. I think two things happened. It was us trying to figure out letting competition drive selection. She’s a winner, she wanted to improve, I think she really drove on and improved.

“We challenged her to continue to be a good leader. We needed her voice. We needed to hear her. She got an opportunity again. When she is on, when she is ticking, when she is moving the ball, we are at her best. We made life very difficult with our decisions at the beginning, and she bounced back stronger.”

I had to wrap my post-practice conversation so Parsons could tend to some business. He got an important phone call, but also, De Vanna had sent word that she wanted to chat with the coach. She came up, saw me interviewing Parsons and said with a smile, “Don’t listen to him. It’s all rubbish.” Parsons smiled, too, but there was a hint of conflicts past in the exchange. De Vanna had shown a few signs of on-field discontent, to put it mildly, over her brief time with the Spirit.

The Spirit would go on to make the playoffs. But before they got there, De Vanna and Lindsey made headlines — one for being left out of the traveling party for internal reasons, another for making a graceful exit from the NWSL.

The Spirit made the playoffs and dropped a tough 2-1 game against Seattle, pushing the league’s runaway top team to the limit. Fans made sure the players got a warm welcome and thanks for the season.

What you’ll learn from ‘Enduring Spirit’ — now in print

I had intended to make Enduring Spirit: Restoring Professional Women’s Soccer to Washington available in print in time for Christmas.  You’ll have to hurry and possibly pay a bit extra if you want it under your tree, but in any case, it is finally available on Amazon. (Yes, I had to design a new cover, which irritated me to no end.)

spirit-printWhat will you learn from reading the book that you probably didn’t see elsewhere? Here you go …

– How Spirit owner Bill Lynch summed up the team’s relationship with MLS club D.C. United.

– U.S. coach Tom Sermanni’s thoughts on the NWSL on Draft Day.

– Then-coach Mike Jorden’s initial reaction to the team’s draft picks.

– How the Spirit’s approach to free agency differed from that of other teams.

– Who made an impression at the Spirit’s open tryouts March 3.

– Assistant coach Kris Ward’s account of Lori Lindsey and Julia Roberts practicing with his D.C. United Academy team.

– The dynamic of Spirit practices, with Ward usually leading most of the drills and Jorden choosing his spots to speak.

– Why D.C. United Women assistant coach Cindi Harkes couldn’t commit to the Spirit.

– Which player wanted to check her official team photo to make sure she looked cute. (Easy one to guess.)

– Which player dominated the first official Spirit practice.

– How the Spirit adjusted when windy weather forced them inside in preseason.

– Why Real World star Heather Cooke found the camp atmosphere more intimidating than reality TV.

– Cooke’s car-intensive youth career and how she wound up playing for the Philippines.

– Which discovery player struggled in the second week of practice.

– Which player was so competitive that she refused to switch to an easier matchup in a running drill.

– Several players (Ingrid Wells, Kika Toulouse, Chantel Jones among them) comparing their experiences overseas to the Spirit environment.

– Lori Lindsey’s preseason thoughts on the team’s playing style.

– Which player worked in a sports bar.

– Which player worked as a dog sitter.

– Why Ashlyn Harris didn’t really need another training camp.

– Anson Dorrance’s defense of insisting on playing with college substitution rules.

– Why the Spirit didn’t object to college substitution rules in other preseason games.

– UNC’s Kealia Ohai on the differences between between the college game and the Tar Heels’ preseason loss to the Spirit.

– How Jasmyne Spencer was greeted in a preseason game at her alma mater.

– How Tori Huster adjusted to playing center back.

– Which player was most prone to cursing at herself in practice.

– How the Spirit prepared for the opener against Boston, including a couple of animated discussions about defensive tactics and a less-than-imposing wall on free kicks.

– Which vertically challenged Spirit player scored on a header over tall goalkeeping coach Lloyd Yaxley.

– Lori Lindsey’s toast after the opening draw with Boston.

– All about one of the most amusing supporting characters of the season — the bus driver on the first Boston trip.

– Which player plowed through New York Times crossword puzzles on the bus.

– Which player wasn’t a fan of the German people’s serious attitudes.

– How news of the Boston Marathon bombing affected the team as it traveled back from Boston.

– Which player looked like a Navy SEAL in an early-season fitness drill.

– Which player tried, in Lloyd Yaxley’s words, “Hollywood passes.”

– Julia Roberts on the difference between a big W-League team in 2012 and an NWSL team in 2013.

– Kika Toulouse’s approach toward making the team’s pregame music mix.

– Which player forgot to remove her warmup gear before going to check in to an early-season game.

– Which U.S. women’s team staff member visited an April practice.

– Which player was upset over a prank involving an autographed picture.

– Which player’s college choice was affected by the Eurosport catalog.

– Which player’s early playing experience was nothing other than “being thrown in the net by my brothers.”

– Robyn Gayle’s thoughts on staying in women’s soccer even years without a pro league.

That’s a partial list through April. I’ll add more later, but at least this gives you an idea.

It’s not an insider account of every team meeting. I was only invited to one, and it involved a fun game of charades.

It’s not an opinion piece. There’s a good bit of detail on the events leading up to Mike Jorden’s departure and a few other moves, and there’s a bit of analysis where needed. The game reports are pretty subjective. It’s not a point-by-point take on what the Spirit did right and wrong.

It’s a diary of the team and a collection of interviews with every player and nearly everyone involved. It captures their personalities, their struggles and those moments when things went well.

Enjoy. Print, Kindle, Nook — whatever you prefer.


kindle-spiritThe book is only at Amazon for now. But you don’t need a Kindle to read it! Amazon offers apps for every platform you might possibly have — tablets, phones, laptops.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working to make it available on other ebook platforms. I declined Amazon’s exclusivity offer, which includes a couple of incentives, so that I would reserve the rights to publish it elsewhere.

might do a print version at some point, but it would be a limited run. If you have any thoughts on what might make a print version worthwhile, let me know.

The good news is that the ebook is only $5.99.

I thanked 91 people by name in the acknowledgments at the end of the book, but I could’ve gone on and on. Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in this book along the way, and I hope you enjoy it.

‘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.”

‘Enduring Spirit’ excerpt: Charades

The book Enduring Spirit: Reviving Professional Women’s Soccer should be available Oct. 15, barring any last-minute editing questions or complications with converting my draft to e-book format. By popular demand, I’ll make sure it’s available somewhere other than Amazon, though it’ll go to Amazon first.

Over the next week, I’ll release a couple of excerpts. Here’s one.

Friday, July 5

The bus wasn’t evil this time. A couple of players used the overhead sleeping compartments — Diana Matheson had trouble climbing up but had plenty of room to stretch out. Conny Pohlers was eager to watch Wimbledon on the satellite TV, but with Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro’s match stretching for nearly five hours, the team tossed in a few episodes of Modern Family.

This was the one road trip of the season in which I would stick with the team the whole time. With Lori Lindsey’s encouragement, I said hello to the team when we got on the bus and reminded them what I was doing. Most players tuned out, but Chantel Jones was quick with a couple of questions. I told her Colleen Williams had suggested a title.

“What was that?”

Sexy Soccer,” I said.

Sexy FOOTBALL,” Ashlyn Harris admonished, clearly preferring global terminology over Americanized alliteration.

Mark Parsons was staying busy. He and Lloyd Yaxley worked their way through some videos on the bus. His scouting gave him confidence that he imparted on the team at a brief practice on the sweltering field on the fringe of New Jersey suburbia. “I could not feel better about how this is set up,” Parsons said in a practice that emphasized the positive.

Harris may have grown up in Florida, but she was no fan of the 90-degree heat and high humidity. “It’s so hot,” she moaned to Ali Krieger in the hotel lobby before practice. “I already feel sick.”

She also wasn’t a fan of the artificial turf on which the Spirit was training in the midst of a complex, like the SoccerPlex, that had several grass fields. “My feet are burning,” she muttered as she trudged off to work with Yaxley and Chantel Jones.

But the grass was long and apparently off-limits. And Parsons thought the turf, much more forgiving than the Dilboy Stadium carpet, was pretty good for the technical training they were doing. They were working on turning before the pass arrived so they’re in better position to play the ball. Not trapping THEN turning. He said they’ll clean it up over a couple of weeks.

And Harris got into the swing of things when the teams played a modified scrimmage at the end of practice. She loved seeing a chip from Diana Matheson and kept encouraging her teammates.

Pohlers raced back to the bus after practice, trying to catch the rest of the Wimbledon men’s semifinal. But Andy Murray had already won the fourth set and the match.

The team dinner drew unanimous approval. A modest-looking Italian place served superb salmon, chicken and pasta to a happy team.

Most of the players and coaches had asked very little about how I reached the point in my career at which I thought following a soccer team around would be a good idea. Parsons was an exception, asking me tons of questions about my soccer background and my career. I was happy to talk, but then I was the last person with food on my plate. Conny Pohlers, clearly ready to get back to the hotel, started teasing me about never finishing my dinner. I gulped down my food, and we left.

That evening, Parsons held a meeting free from any talk of tactics or technique. It was team bonding time.

First up was an exercise of finding words that best described the team and its goals. It looked like a corporate exercise usually imposed on baffled or jaded employees, but the team was into it. Holly King offered “resilient,” which several people misheard as “Brazilian.”

Harris, always in intense in games and focused in practice, showed a softer side. She considered the team a family and gave an emotional speech about how important that sentiment was.

And Harris’ words inspired a new team catchphrase: “Family! Together! We will fight!”

Then Harris got back to her competitive instincts in a raucous game of charades, with Parsons providing movie titles to act out. The goalkeeper was up first and may have bent the rules, grabbing a prop to use as an eye patch. Her team immediately got it: “Pirates of the Caribbean!”

Ali Krieger had a tougher task. She let her hair down and pranced around like a beauty pageant contender. Her team didn’t get it. Two other teams yelled out for the steal: “Pretty Woman!”

Colleen Williams and Jasmyne Spencer connected easily. Williams mimicked a free kick. Spencer: “Bend It Like Beckham!”

Parsons raised the ante with a speed round, in which each team would do as many movies as possible in a limited time, and the veterans heated up. The normally reserved Candace Chapman used much of the available floor space for some animated acting, and Kika Toulouse quickly got three of Chapman’s assigned films. Lori Lindsey let loose a “BOOM, BABY!” after getting Snow White from Chantel Jones’ clues. Diana Matheson got her team into the final with a convincing portrayal of the Titanic sinking.

Pohlers was eager to participate, making up her own titles in between rounds. But when the time came for her to go, she stuck with typing and drawing a computer with her hands. The film was The Notebook. She was unaware of the English word “notebook” when not followed by “computer.”

The final teams:

– Lori Lindsey, Tori Huster, Holly King, Lindsay Taylor, Chantel Jones

– Diana Matheson, Colleen Williams, Jasmyne Spencer, Lupita Worbis.

Parsons made it winner-take-all. Whoever guessed first would win the title for her team.

Krieger and Harris volunteered to be the actors. Each veteran drew hearts in the air, then turned as if beginning a swordfight.

Chantel Jones shouted the winning word.