Washington Spirit 1-0 Portland Thorns: Rivalry?

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.”


Why the Washington Spirit should make a deal with Portland

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. The Washington Spirit have problems — some of their own making, some not. (Some of this was covered earlier in my Guardian piece on the club’s issues.)

  • Last year’s national anthem fiasco was, first of all, the wrong decision on the club’s part. (Make no mistake — a lot of people spoke up in support of Bill Lynch, just not within the narrow confines of the women’s soccer community. But you simply can’t make a point about patriotism by stifling peaceful free expression. And I’d challenge the people who said “Oh, I’m a Spirit fan now!” to actually show up at some games this year.)
  • The anthem fiasco was also symptomatic of a persistent issue with the club, which is that it simply does not get public relations. That’s not the fault of the people who’ve done the club’s PR work. It’s higher up.
  • Along those same lines — while it’s not fair to slap a “homophobic” label on Lynch after Joanna Lohman spoke up for him, would it kill the Spirit to have a Pride Night? One potential positive: Maybe players around the league (not just Washington) who have hesitated to go public will do so. It’s sad to think that anyone is living like Barry Manilow did for so many years, unable to talk in public about a partner or spouse who means so much. The decision to speak in public is personal, and some may choose to remain silent, but women’s soccer as a whole should reiterate that this is a community of allies. (Worth noting, though: The notion that the Spirit is the only club not to have a Pride Night is disputed.)
  • A lot of players left, for diverse reasons. Some had issues with coach Jim Gabarra because they felt they deserved a bigger role. (A couple may have had a case; a couple are deluding themselves.) The anthem incident and other management issues surely played a part in some other departures.
  • More troubling from my perspective: The staff turnover. They’ve lost some good people. Players are just packing up and moving to another club. Staff members who leave are generally rooted in the community and are leaving the game entirely.
  • The Development Academy efforts in Virginia are off to a shaky start. Several clubs with proven track records of developing players have removed themselves from Spirit partnerships, replaced by clubs that have some wonderful coaches but are considerably smaller in size and past achievements.

Add it all up, and it’s easy to see how negative narratives can pop up. The Narrative now is simple: “Nobody wants to play for the Spirit. They’re the worst club in the league.”

From 20-something years in journalism, I can say this: The Narrative is usually somewhere between “oversimplified” and “flat-out wrong.” It was wrong over and over again in last year’s election. Journalists deserve most of the blame for that, but the data we get from readers also steer us in that direction. It’s human nature to find a simple way to read a story and stick with it.

In this case, there have been plenty of bad situations around the league. Kansas City fans are hoping new ownership can erase the stains of last year’s messy implosion. Some clubs have horrible playing and training surfaces, though the Spirit simply got lucky there by inheriting space at the Maryland SoccerPlex from past women’s pro teams. (Washington may be the one metro area in the U.S. in which the women’s club has better fields than the men’s club — everything at D.C. United’s lame-duck home of RFK Stadium reeks of neglect.)

And other clubs simply don’t draw the scrutiny that the Spirit, a polarizing team for many reasons, have always drawn. Gabarra’s every move is questioned here. My memory may be fading, but I don’t remember him being on such a hot seat at Sky Blue.

So The Narrative is certainly oversimplified. We can’t say “no one wants to play in Washington.” If we could survey every player in the league, we’d surely find some players — including some good ones — who would be happy to have a change of scenery.

And The Narrative includes a few unsubstantiated or unfair accusations. Some of the chatter yesterday was on the rash of ACL injuries among Spirit players in the last 12 months — if someone has evidence that this is due to overuse or poor physical training, speak up, but it still wouldn’t explain Kelsey Wys being injured in Australia. Also, a lot of critics have piled on with complaints of “unfair treatment” of Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, refusing to even consider the possibility that Wys simply played too well last season to lose her spot. (The way Labbe has started this season, Wys might not reclaim the starting spot when she finishes rehab. It’s unfortunate, but there’s simply no scapegoat here.)

All that said … The Narrative needs changing. It’s not just a question of appeasing critics who are eager to pile on for various reasons (some political, some because of allegiances to other teams, some who don’t realize a lot of clubs would’ve lost patience with Ali Krieger a lot sooner than the Spirit did). A lot has gone wrong at the SoccerPlex, and a considerable amount of it is the Spirit’s fault.

And fans are clearly voting with their feet. Some of the Spirit Squadron will show up to cheer for Tori Huster and anyone else who battles for their hometown team no matter what. Some won’t.

The Spirit needs to change something to reverse the trend. And now they have a golden opportunity. Mallory Pugh is ready to go pro. The Spirit would be first in line to bring her to the NWSL, but numerous reports say she’d much rather go to Portland.

We can argue about whether Pugh has the right to hold the league hostage as she is. That’s something soccer fans have argued at least since Freddy Adu maneuvered his way to D.C. United way back when, and sports fans can remember everyone from John Elway to Danny Ferry refusing to go where they were drafted. That’s a complex argument for another day.

And we don’t know what Portland has offered. Merritt Paulson apparently disputes the idea that the Thorns have offered up two federation players (they have several U.S. players in that category, plus Christine Sinclair), but I don’t know what to make of that.

For the record, I did get a comment from Gabarra late last night: “We haven’t even been told yet that Mal is going to be an funded player this year. Therefore, we aren’t going to talk about any deals offered, accepted, or rejected. As we’ve said, we believe Mal is an extraordinary player with tremendous potential. If she is joining the NWSL we would certainly love to have her play in DC. Her talents and skills would be a perfect fit for our style of play and she will continue her growth and development here as a player.”

You can fault Gabarra for saying very little, but it’s not as if the Thorns, one of the most adored clubs in the NWSL, are sending clear signals themselves.

But let’s assume for the moment that no one is misleading all of the reporters, and Pugh is indeed in play. If the Spirit can make a deal with the suddenly valuable No. 1 Allocation Ranking Thing That Apparently Exists, they can accomplish two things:

  1. They’ll earn goodwill among players and many fans for helping Pugh play where she wants.
  2. They’ll show to the fans that they’re not giving up on this season, getting someone good in return for all the puzzling trades they’ve made in the offseason.

Simple narratives are rarely a good thing. But simple solutions are often best.



Spirit-Thorns and the state of NWSL player development

Think for a second about the talent on the field at last night’s Washington Spirit-Portland Thorns game. The teams combined to use 27 players. Ten players have made it to the field in a World Cup or Olympics. Six more could make their World Cup debuts next year. Five more played in a youth World Cup.*

That’s great for the fans. But it’s even better for the players. They’re improving, game by game.

These players could be tucked away in residency right now, doing beep tests and going up against the same opponents every day. Instead, they’re coping with new situations in a mix of players bringing different talents to the table.

The international mix helps. The two most accomplished current Canadian players, Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson, were on the field — Sinclair wasn’t at her best but still hit the post once, while Matheson had a few sharp attacking moments and an assist. Then all six imports from outside North America were in good form:

– Lisa De Vanna (WAS) was a speedy pest down the left flank, nearly combining with Matheson on a brilliant scoring chance.

– Nadine Angerer (POR) showed every bit of veteran poise in goal, dominating the box on set pieces and coming out to sweep the ball away on a Spirit attack.

– Jodie Taylor (WAS) was responsible for that attack and a few more, including a quality finish that leveled the game.

– Stephanie Catley (POR) had a thrilling duel with U.S. phenom Crystal Dunn, assisting on the Thorns goal to Alex Morgan and playing solid defense while wearing out the grass on the flank.

– Kerstin Garefrekes (WAS) might have lost the speed to keep up with the Catleys and Dunns of the world, but she had a couple of moments of class that nearly stole the game for the Spirit.

– Vero Boquete (POR) had an off night. Most other players would call it a highlight reel, turning defenders in knots and scooping a ball over the defense to give Ashlyn Harris a nervous moment in goal.

“That’s what you need in this league,” said Portland’s loquacious coach, Paul Riley. “We didn’t have ’em last year, we didn’t have these foreign players. Now we’ve got some of the top players in the world here. It’s getting more like WPS was. They do bring something to the table. I think they add so much to the team, in practice even.”

In particular, the enthusiastic Riley gushed about Vero, who played for Riley with the WPS Philadelphia Independence, and Catley, a young Australian defender/midfielder/wherever she wants.

“Good decisions on the ball. She can tackle, too. And she’s just turned 20. Think about it — she’s a sophomore in college in our terms in America.”

Australia has already qualified for the World Cup, and Catley is getting a glimpse of a quicker style of play in the NWSL. Vero may finally get a chance to play in the World Cup next year, with Spain sitting atop its qualifying group, and she’s only getting better.

Then consider the effect of these players on Americans who are still on the upswing of their careers. Like Tobin Heath, the skillful Thorns midfielder who missed last night’s game with a knee sprain.

“I told Tobin Heath, if you want to be the Number 10 (playmaking midfielder) for the United States, this is the player you need to watch,” Riley said.

And the league is a learning experience for a player like Crystal Dunn. If you can’t see her quality, you need to consult a soccer coach or an optometrist. But she’s prone to rookie mistakes — a slip here, a bit of matador defense there, an ill-advised run out of position elsewhere. Better to have these teachable moments now than against Germany.

The U.S. depth in field players is growing with each game. Allie Long may have her Twitter detractors, but she was a strong midfield presence for the Thorns last night. Nikki Marshall limited De Vanna. Tori Huster limited Vero. Even if these players don’t make the national team, they’re helping by giving the U.S. players a good test every week. Last year, perhaps you could say a few teams in the league — especially the Spirit — fielded some players who looked out of place against a top team. Not in this game.

Then there’s the goalkeeping question, a dangerous discussion topic in women’s soccer circles. Last night’s game provided plenty of evidence for the cases for and against Ashlyn Harris’ national team future. She was stranded on the Thorns goal and had a couple of rough moments with her distribution. But without her saves, the Thorns win 3-1 or 4-1.

And she was just a little bit defensive when asked whether her play on the Thorns goal, where she came out partway, was “high-risk.”

“I don’t think I would really word it like that. You’re playing against the best striker in the world. To me, it was a great ball, and she dealt with it well. I wouldn’t go as far as to saying it didn’t work for me. I think I had world-class saves tonight, and that game could’ve been much different. So the way I see it is — yeah, I made a decision that may not have worked out in my favor, but I (freaking) got the job done.”

Then came a quote that is surely already being picked apart like the Zapruder film:

When you get so many balls played over the top and your back line’s not doing their job, at some point, you have to come out and relieve the pressure. There’s times where I came out and I intercepted passes, and there’s times that I won’t. There’s times where it’s going to be sketchy and hairy, but until our back line figures it out, we’re in sync and we drop as a line and we don’t create that big of a gap where people can just constantly toe-poke and run after us, we’re going to be beat. That’s something we’re trying to figure out now, but we don’t have the legs. This is coming off of a long week and a half of game after game after and travel, travel, travel.

Could it be better? Yeah, every game could be better. Could I learn from it? Yeah, every game I could learn something from it. At the end of the day, we got a point against a really good team, and we’ve just gotta move forward.

Another reason the Thorns provide a good learning experience: These days, they’re not aiming for the Barcelona-style possession soccer so much in vogue these days. They’re direct. Over the top and far away.

That doesn’t surprise Harris one bit:

Yeah, of course they’re direct. Look at the forwards they have. Why mess with the ball — get it in. These players running at you — it’s not fun. I can tell you that from experience. It put us under pressure. We couldn’t keep the ball. And that was part of our problem.

Going against these players — they want it. Alex Morgan was calling for the ball the entire game. And that’s the difference between her and a lot of other players. She wants (the ball) in all forms — in front, in behind — her movement’s insane. She’s going the entire game. We could learn something from that.

Don’t tell me players don’t care about these games. They’re learning experiences, but they’re learning experiences with far higher stakes than a U.S. friendly against whatever youngsters an international team decides to bring over to face the same old familiar faces in the latest Nike kits.

This game was vital for playoff positioning. Last year, the Spirit might have taken a moral victory over getting a draw with an in-form team like Portland. Not now.

“One point, I think, is a little disappointing,” Cross said. “We were both pushing for three points.”

That said, Spirit coach Mark Parsons is always one to take Eric Idle’s advice and look on the bright side of life, and he’s glad his team has the woeful performances out of its system.

Sunday (a brutal 4-2 loss at Sky Blue) was not us. Today showed that we’re right up there with everyone.”


Check the video for these moments:


6:50 Stephanie Catley plays it long for Alex Morgan, who splits the defenders. Ashlyn Harris comes out and winds up in no man’s land. Morgan finishes with a beautiful lob. 1-0.

19:30 Alex Singer makes a strong run up the left and beats two defenders to play a short cross to Jodie Taylor. The Spirit forward, with her back to goal, lays it back for Christine Nairn, who has scored some ESPN-worthy goals from distance this season but is well off the mark this time.

25:50 Direct ball for Taylor, but Nadine Angerer is out quickly to slide feet-first just outside the box to knock it away.

27:05 Another direct ball to Morgan, and Niki Cross does just enough to throw her off and force her shot into a tough angle. Morgan hits side netting.

27:50 Just highlighting a sharp example of good tactical runs. Lisa De Vanna cuts inside toward the middle of the field. Diana Matheson, who was in the middle, sprints ahead while De Vanna occupies the defense’s attention. De Vanna’s through ball is a bit too heavy.

29:25 Once again, it was a rough game for an NWSL ref, who actually managed to get in the way twice and broke up a Spirit shooting opportunity. But here, she did something right, correctly playing advantage after Tori Huster is fouled. The Spirit wind up with a good opportunity, but Taylor can’t quite finish it.

33:20 Morgan beats offside trap, goes 1-v-1 against retreating Harris. Harris pokes ball away, saves resulting (more difficult for Morgan) shot

39:20 Dunn lets Catley glide right past her, setting up a good chance for the Thorns.


45:25 A good example of the Spirit almost connecting but just taking a little too much time and not quite being in the right spots. They take a while to swing the ball wide to Dunn, who takes a good quick step to send in a cross, only to find no one anticipating it.

57:45 Watch Vero’s audacious scoop pass. Do any American players ever try that?

62:55 Catley beats Dunn, and the Thorns get a couple of chances in a 30-second sequence that ends with Christine Sinclair’s highlight of the night, a shot just off the post.

67:00 The Thorns defense loses track of Taylor, who takes a heavy touch past Angerer but finishes superbly. Assist to Diana Matheson. 1-1.

72:15 Why did Ashlyn Harris play this ball with her head? Making absolutely sure the ref doesn’t think it was a back pass?

77:00 Morgan rounds Cross, and the well-positioned Harris keeps it level with a kick save.

79:35 Lovely bit of skill from Kerstin Garefrekes, with the shot against longtime German teammate Nadine Angerer going just wide.

Unfortunately, the stream cut off before Garefrekes’ last shot nearly won it for the Spirit, and it wasn’t included in the highlight reel.

* Yes, I looked up every player in the FIFA database. World Cup or Olympics: Lisa De Vanna, Lori Lindsey, Diana Matheson, Ali Krieger, Kerstin Garefrekes, Veronica Perez, Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeke, Nadine Angerer. Possible World Cup debuts: Vero Boquete, Crystal Dunn, Jodie Taylor, Stephanie Catley, perhaps Ashlyn Harris and Allie Long. Youth World Cups: Christine Nairn, Amber Brooks, Sarah Huffman, Nikki Marshall, Angie (Woznuk) Kerr

Washington Spirit vs. Portland: The real deal

I had a lot of fun tonight on Twitter at the expense of the fans and the ref fawning over Alex Morgan tonight at the SoccerPlex, where attendance was one starting lineup north of 5,000.

But the takeaway from tonight’s game is this: The Portland Thorns aren’t just hype. They’re great.

All the preseason attention went to the star-studded attack allocations — Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair. They showed their skills, with Sinclair fully capable of being a playmaker as well as a target player.

Get past them, and you run into WPS/PSG veteran Allie Long in midfield. Then you hit former U.S. U-20 captain and two-time WPS champion Becky Edwards. Attack the wing, and you run into former U.S. defender Marian (Dalmy) Dougherty. Go up the center, and who’s that making the recovery and clearing the danger? Just national teamer Rachel Buehler.

And you have Nikki Washington, who scored the game-winner in the Thorns’ 2-1 win with a terrific far-post shot after Washington’s Ali Krieger coughed up the ball.

Even the relative unknown — Meleana Shim — played a terrific game Saturday night.

That’s just not fair.

You can’t hand the NWSL trophy to Portland just yet. Kansas City matched up well with them in the season opener. On a given day, Sky Blue or Western New York could give them a run. Maybe Boston, too.

The Spirit made a game of it. The home side (yes, Alex Morgan fanboys — Washington was the home side) had seven shots on goal to Portland’s five. Portland’s opening goal was a penalty kick awarded dubiously after Morgan seemed to be offside, was barely fouled and may or may not have been in the box. Ashlyn Harris was sufficiently incensed by the call to get a yellow card for dissent for her protests before and after the PK.

Fans will be happy to know Harris and Morgan hugged it out in the SoccerPlex’s main building after the game. The Thorns were gracious winners all the way around. When asked if the Thorns did anything to slow down Washington’s all-world midfielder Diana Matheson, coach Cindy Parlow Cone (can we just call her CPC from now on?) said, “I don’t know if there’s anything to slow down that girl. She’s all over the field.”

CPC also singled out the Spirit defense and holding midfield. By name. She listed everyone and apologized for not being able to come up with Domenica Hodak’s name, even though Hodak was making her first start. Quite a change from her old coach, Anson Dorrance, who refers to people as “that girl who used to score a lot against us” or “that other girl who used to give us a tough time” or “that tall girl.”

She might be a rookie coach, but CPC is an early front-runner for coach of the year. She says the right things, she’s intense at the right times, and this team is tactically sound.

And she believes firmly that, despite her team’s unbeaten record, the NWSL is a league of parity. “With only eight teams, every team is really good, and the Spirit is no exception. We were lucky to get out of there with the win.”

Lucky to get the PK call, maybe, and perhaps lucky that Krieger had an off night with a costly turnover. But the Thorns are surely a bit farther along in their development than the youthful Spirit.

Washington coach Mike Jorden sees the work to be done. He made the crowd-pleasing move of starting Caroline Miller ahead of Tiffany McCarty, but Miller was just as tentative as McCarty has been.

Jorden has plenty of options up front, but as my D.C. media buddy Aaron Stollar pointed out tonight, he doesn’t have that one player that requires constant attention from the defense. The Spirit has been most effective with players like Matheson, Stephanie Ochs and Lori Lindsey drifting into the attack. If Miller or McCarty can develop into that dangerous forward, the Spirit will be much better off.

On defense, Candace Chapman was once again on the bench despite pregame claims that she was available to play. But Tori Huster is growing into that center back role. After a strong performance against Abby Wambach and a more difficult time against Sky Blue last week, she had a terrific game against the big-name Thorns offense, making a few timely interceptions and generally minimizing the threats. Ashlyn Harris made one big save, but that was on a long-range Christine Sinclair shot.

Morgan had a few words with Domenica Hodak after a mild foul, then a few more with Diana Matheson after an even milder foul. She just shrugged it off as getting fiesty. “As players, we know that we need to put a good product on the field. We don’t get paid to go out there and fight, we get paid to go out there and play.”

Matheson’s late PK goal was just what the game needed, just enough to remind the crowd that the home team is worth supporting even when someone with nice hair isn’t on the visiting team. The big crowd, packing the SoccerPlex’s stands and the hill with the beer garden, deserved some late drama.

I’ve been insisting that you can’t write Washington’s name in Sharpie at the bottom of the table. I still believe that, especially after Boston’s demolition of Chicago today. They’re still due another couple of players — Chapman, Mexican midfielder Teresa Worbis, and an unnamed Europe-based defender. But it’s also a matter of confidence. The sooner the Spirit get that first win, the better they’ll be.

Until then, Washington fans should just take heart that they’re seeing some good games in a great facility. Enjoy.