As of Saturday, the Washington Spirit has fallen to eighth place in the National Women’s Soccer League, when they dropped their latest match against the Portland Thorns 1-0.
It took the Thorns until the 68th minute to score their one goal. With one keeper and two defensive players backing her up, a pass from Tobin Heath to Ellie Carpenter was placed perfectly for Carpenter nick it into the net. As the ball started rolling back out of the net, Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe and two defenders could be seen lying face down on the ground right where they landed trying to stop the ball.
Throughout the match, the Spirit missed out on at least three excellent chances to score, including a penalty kick, but the strikes were just off target, either over the top of the frame or wide. The accuracy just was not there.
As the rain came down in a heavy drizzle that just would not relent, the last 15 minutes of the second half saw a flurry of activity from the Spirit, forcing the Thorns into a bunkering position to protect their one-goal lead. The Spirit turned on the aggression and kept the pressure on the Thorns on their side of the field. The excitement of the Spirit potentially scoring a leveling goal was felt throughout the crowd right until the referee blew the final whistle in penalty time.
Those unable to attend missed out on a great pro soccer match and also missed out on the chance to see three local high school graduates show off their skills as professional athletes on the field. Representing the Portland Thorns, Good Counsel alum Midge Purce went on to graduate from Harvard, while starting keeper and Northwest alum Britt Eckerstrom went on to graduate from Penn State. Playing for the Washington Spirit, Springbrook alum Joanna Lohman graduated from Penn State with a 3.98 grade point average.
Speaking with Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra about the Spirit’s current standing at eighth place, he rationalized the standings as being about losing four matches.
“Look at the four losses where the two where we dropped points; two were against North Carolina that are a really, really, stable and set team, one of the best teams in the league coming off the last two seasons,” Gabarra said. “If you look at the three times we played them this year, we got throttled three-nothing in pre-season. We made a lot of mistakes as young teams do. For Carolina’s first time here, we lost 4-2. We built off that and had a really good performance in Carolina when we played them for the third time this year. We made a little bit of a mistake to give up a goal and missed some really good chances. We could have gotten out of there with a point.”
He makes a significant argument. Since the regular season started, when the Spirit lose, they lose to teams by a smaller goal differential than any other team lost to the same team. Using North Carolina once again as an example, the Spirit was the first team to score on the undefeated Courage. That says a lot about their potential. Coach Gabarra noted that his challenge now is “to get the group to come together and realize the talent they have on the team. We’re confident that we are, you know, potentially one of the best teams in the league, but at the end of the day you have to actually go out there and put the performances in and put the work in and come together.”
The Washington Spirit has one of the most talent-heavy teams in the league but they do not have the years of experience playing together like the current top teams in the league. In the past, I likened the Spirit’s losses to young, fast, and incredibly talented players going up against older athletes with more experience and cunning.
Coach Gabarra says other teams have more experience playing together. When the Spirit finally come together, and take more time in practice and in matches, they will rise in the league standings. There is still two-thirds of a season left for this team to rally.