The man with a plan is Jim Gabarra, the new head coach of the Washington Spirit. The team’s front office announced him as head coach and general manager last October. He started coaching on the field with the team, this week. Jim comes to the Washington Spirit armed with a program that has delivered league winners in the past and is expected to drive the Washington Spirit past the ceiling on championships by the Seattle Reign.
Coach Gabarra’s previous coaching position was with the Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. He said it was a tough decision to tear away from what he had built there. One thing he will not miss is the commute. During the National Women’s Soccer League season, he commuted from his home in Maryland. Jersey was his home away from home Tuesday thru Saturday. Sunday and Monday he was back in Maryland with his family.
Jim has a storied background in women’s professional soccer as a coach and with his family. His wife is Carin Gabarra, the first Golden Ball winner in women’s professional soccer, who currently works as women’s soccer head coach at the United States Naval Academy. She has been there since 1993. Carin earned eight All-American awards as a student and played a large role in the women’s 1996 Olympic Gold Medal win. There is no shortage of knowing what it takes to win big championships at the Gabarra household.
I asked Jim about the departure of Ashlyn Harris, a fan favorite and national team player. Ashlyn was allocated to the new expansion team in Orlando, Fl. Jim said this was best for the league, providing Orlando with players who can compete at World Cup level, giving them a chance to be a competitive team in their inaugural year. Was the Spirit going to be selfish and deny Ashlyn a chance to play at home? Deny the rest of the league the opportunity to see a new team flourish? Sending Ashlyn to Orlando gave her a chance to return to her home state and start with a new team as a proven team leader. The decision was for the good of both teams, the league, and Ashlyn.
Who will replace Ashlyn? Jim says Kelsey Wys is ready to be a No. 1, as is Stephanie Labbé. He has the good fortune to have two players ready to be a No. 1. Jim has a plan; it includes players Joanna Lohman of Silver Spring, a fully recovered Tori Huster, and Katie Stengal on attacks.
What does he want to focus on as a priority? The back line. There is a lot of talent on the back line with people like Ali Krieger who is a natural back right player. For the Spirit to win a championship, the Spirit has to reduce the number of shots the keeper has to defend. The Spirit has to become a team that is even more difficult to score against. Jim brought in Denise Reddy as a defense coach, which is integral to reducing other teams’ opportunities to score against the Spirit.
When the preseason starts this coming weekend, he says fans can expect inconsistency in the results. Allocated players will be missing for FIFA matches. Non-roster invitees will be playing with the team plus there have been only five days from the first practice to the first match this coming Saturday March 19th at 7 p.m. The match will be played on Maureen Hendricks Field at the Boyd’s Soccerplex.
In closing the interview, Gabarra said he was excited to be working with the Washington Spirit, and that it is not a team that needs rebuilding. His priority is to bring a winning championship to DC.
A side note about three NWSL team members: this past Friday, two Spirit players, Tori Huster and Tiffany Weimer, along with Western New York Flash draft pick Britt Eckerstrom lost all their gear, personal effects, and cars to a fire in the Eckerstrom house in Boyds. It was a large fire that displaced five people. Everyone escaped the fire and the cause has not yet been determined. A Go Fund Me has been set up to aid the players. As of Monday March 14, $30,000 plus has been donated. The site is at gofundme.com/nwslfirefund.