More than half way through the regular season, the Washington Spirit continue to battle the spurious invisible Jersey specter that will not allow them to win a match against Sky Blue FC when played on the home turf of Sky Blue FC. The Spirit lost an opportunity to pick up three points and be in sole possession of first place by losing to host Sky Blue FC 1-0 this past Saturday in New Jersey.
Instead, Sky Blue (6-4-4 overall, 22 points) picked up three points and moved into a tie with the Chicago Red Stars for fourth place, making them serious contenders for a playoff position.
Meanwhile, the on-again, off-again Spirit (8-3-2) share first place with the Portland Thorns (7-2-5) at 26 points, with the Western New York Flash (8-5-1) right behind with 25 points.
The NWSL is in that time of the 2016 season when most of the national players are away at the Olympics.
While these world-class athletes are away competing for their home countries, the bench strength of each NWSL team is acutely tested on whether they can continue or improve field execution without the national players.
For Washington, the team’s bench filled in the holes and performed admirably, albeit with the close loss to Sky Blue FC.
The Spirit will have another shot against Sky Blue FC July 30 at the SoccerPlex in Boyds.
Recently, Spirit General Manager and Head Coach Jim Gabarra discussed how well the plan for his season is coming together.
Montgomery County Sentinel: All season you were putting newer players in key positions for late game minutes in what looked like a try out for filling positions later in the season. How is that working now that the national players are away at the Olympics.
Jim Gabarra: We have a deep roster. Players have stepped up to the challenges and have done well. Estefania Banini, Francesca Ordega, Cheyna Williams are all fighting for starting positions up front. At the other end of the field, the backline has come together. Alyssa Kleiner, Megan Oyster, Kelsey Wys, and Caprice Dydesco have kept the back line in order. They have stepped in for the Olympians without missing a step.
MCS: We know Crystal Dunn has been asked to perform a slightly different role this season, acting more a collector than full time attacker. People are asking why Crystal is not scoring more goals?
JG: Crystal Dunn does so many things so well. She continues to improve and I don’t think we have seen the best she has to offer yet. There are some things she needs to improve on. One thing about Dunn because of last season she draws players away from other forwards on the team. There is not a team that plays against the Washington Spirit that does not have a plan to contain Dunn and prevent her from scoring. By drawing the extra attention, she opens paths for other team mates.
Last year she was allowed to be free. People had a false expectation that she will score 15 goals again this season. She will score when we need her.
MCS: What players surprised you the most this year?
JG: Joanna Lohman far exceeded expectations. Because of her performance she has gotten more starting minutes and more playing time. Tori Huster has been the stalwart of the midfield where the bench strength is the weakest. She makes the plays that require physical prowess and athleticism that others cannot manage. She has really held things together for us in the midfield. She scored a goal, she is on a hot streak.
MCS: Let me ask you the one question no one has had an answer for this year. What is the one question you want the media to ask you that seems to never come?
JG: That is a good question. Let me flip that back at you. What do want me to talk about that you have not asked? My greatest challenge has been to come in here and not be disruptive to a successful organization and add value coaching the team.
MCS: Ha. Well done. Okay, let’s talk about the newest international player. Is she going to make here in time for this season?
JG: Sigvardsen Jensen should be traveling to us by Tuesday, July 26, possibly playing within a 10 days if not sooner. It is tough to find new players during an Olympic or World Cup year. International Olympian players are playing for their home countries and not readily available to play in the NWSL. We have to search for potential talent that we can develop. Sigvardsen will be in the center back position, a No. 6 if you will. We have three international slots waiting to be filled.
MCS: Thank you for your time and good luck on your next match.
JG: Thank you.