The Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex’s stadium field on Saturday without Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Diana Matheson, Megan Oyster, Christine Nairn and Estefania Banini. We didn’t even see Boyd, the SoccerPlex dog. And they fell behind to a college team, 3-2.
Proof that the team can’t compete? Time to panic?
Not really. First of all, it’s preseason. Major League Baseball teams lose spring training games to minor league and college teams from time to time. MLS teams occasionally beat European powers warming up for their seasons in the USA, and we don’t think D.C. United would win La Liga. We didn’t pronounce the Spirit the NWSL champs-in-waiting when they beat North Carolina 5-0 last week in the Virginia.
And in this case, the positives outweighed the negatives in a 4-3 Spirit win.
The Spirit really only had one negative to consider: Three shots on goal, three goals. That’s more of an indictment of the Spirit backline than it is of Spirit keeper DiDi Haracic. Defenders simply failed to clear the danger against a potent Duke attack.
- Arielle Ship, the third-round draft pick who came to Washington in the Diana Matheson deal, is a consistent attacking force who set up the Spirit’s first goal with a deft pass to Katie Stengel.
- Cheyna Williams showed a few signs of a potential breakout season, scoring a beauty for the equalizer.
- When Joanna Lohman and Tori Huster entered the game in the second half, it was game over. Duke had a tough time getting the ball after that.
- Katie Stengel, who has not yet replicated her Bayern Munich scoring success in the NWSL, is on a roll. She scored six goals in the brief Australian season for Western Sydney, and she had two against Duke.
And if you want to extrapolate a bit (or if you just like curious footnotes), consider that all three Duke goals were scored by former Spirit Reserves players — two for Imani Dorsey, one for Kayla McCoy. Another Reserve, Mia Gyau, looked right at home. Still another former Reserve, Meggie Dougherty Howard, scored for the Spirit.
Young talent and a thriving club system isn’t going to make all the fans forget the departures of Dunn, Krieger, Matheson and company. But if you’re gauging what the Spirit gained from this wind-swept preseason game, the news is good. The offense got some confidence. The defense got a wake-up call, as coach Jim Gabarra stressed afterwards.