Did we mention that it was raining hard? And yet, when we could actually catch a glimpse of the game through the water, it was a good one.
Don’t weep for Virginia’s graduation losses. The Cavaliers are still a terrific team. Morgan Brian is world-class. Danielle Colaprico is quality.
And the goal … my word. Get a good camera on it, and it’s a SportsCenter top 10. Rising sophomore Alexis Shaffer brought the ball down the right flank against Danish defender Cecilie Sandvej, saw a glimmer of space, and cracked one outside the box over Ashlyn Harris. Sandvej immediately showed a bit of frustration, but after the game, Harris had nothing but praise for the shot. So did Virginia coach Steve Swanson, who said he wants Shaffer to feel like she has the green light to take those shots. Sure enough, Shaffer created another chance for herself in the second half, forcing former Cavalier Chantel Jones to make the game’s biggest save. Be warned, ACC goalkeepers.
Harris has been fighting her way back to fitness and said she felt good tonight. Her distribution was clean, and she confidently came out of her box to direct the defense and comfortably take some back-passes. Harris isn’t one to hide how she felt about a game, and tonight, she felt very good.
The Spirit still had a few injury concerns. Tori Huster was out, but coach Mark Parsons said she should be fine. “A little knock” is the semi-official diagnosis.
Caroline Miller and Colleen Williams are out, and Parsons said the injury list was an option. Seems only fair — they’re coming off nasty injuries. I have no idea why some fans online keep writing off Miller, a prolific scorer in college who showed some flashes in her brief time with the Spirit last season. Williams had a catastrophic knee injury less than 10 months ago.
The Spirit formation is fluid. Parsons likes that. He loves the idea of confusing a right back who looks up one minute and sees Danesha Adams, then looks up another minute to see Sandvej, who looks sharp attacking up the left flank.
And the Spirit seem far more dangerous on set pieces than they were last season. That’s how they scored tonight, with Toni Pressley pouncing on a loose ball off a corner kick. Pressley couldn’t remember the last time she had scored a goal, but she expects to be in the mix on these plays this year.
The one area of concern for the Spirit might be that last pass in the final third. The team dominated possession tonight, and fans saw glimpses of the passing combinations that Diana Matheson and Tiffany Weimer make possible, but they didn’t trouble the Virginia keepers too often. Jodie Taylor had a lot of dangerous moments, but she hasn’t quite caught up to the speed of the U.S. game, often taking a touch or two too many before turning and attacking.
Parsons is still experimenting, as you’d expect in preseason. Yael Averbuch teamed with trialist Bianca Sierra at center back in the second half. Huster will likely take one of those spots when she returns. Robyn Gayle replaced Sandvej on the left in the second half.
The Spirit will have no shortage of options. Looking around at other preseason rosters, the Spirit won’t have the best starting XI in the league, but they stack up with most teams from player 1 to player 20.
Last but not least tonight — the Spirit had a moment of silence in honor of Shawn Kuykendall, a local soccer player from Madison High School (Vienna!) to American University to D.C. United. Shawn died earlier this month at age 32 from thymic cancer. Read about Shawn through the eyes of his good friend Mike Foss of USA TODAY, and check out Kuykenstrong.com.