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Spirit slip up against Maryland in first preseason loss

In the fourth of five preseason college exhibition matches for the Spirit as they ramp up to their first NWSL season, one of those college teams not only scored on the Spirit for the first time, they won the game. The University of Maryland received an own goal gift in the first half and capitalized on a defensive error in the second to win 2-0 in front of approximately 1,000 fans in College Park tonight.

The first half started with the Spirit in the Terps’ half and generating several crossing opportunities and possession, but little actual danger.  The pattern of the Spirit possessing forward, getting in a cross, then having Maryland counter quickly was repeated several times, with the speedy Cory Ryan and Haley Brock both threatening to outpace the Spirit back line, but unable to reach several balls before rolling out on the firm natural grass surface.

Both teams played a high pressure game, and with the Spirit unable to generate a single shot on goal in the first half, it was the Terps’ pressure that paid off first in the form of a 22nd minute own goal by fill-in center back Tori Huster. The crafty midfielder has been in the back line for the first time in her career since the first few minutes of the Spirit’s game against Duke 10 days ago when Kika Toulouse had to come out with a pulled quad in the fifth minute.

Poised to clear a lofted pass from the top of the six with her head, Huster was barged into right at the moment of impact with the ball, and could only watch as her involuntarily redirected header fell into the net past the an out stretched Chantel Jones in the Spirit goal.

It was the only ball sent on frame by either side in the first half, and the first time any ball has crossed the Spirit goal line in this preseason. But it would not be the last.

The second half started with both teams determined to score the next goal. Once again it was the Spirit looking to build out of the back and move the ball quickly, and then Maryland looking to clear danger and feed their front runners.

Early the second the Spirit started firing on goal, with Maryland alumnus Jasymne Spencer generating the first shot on goal. Spencer joined the Spirit literally 3 hours prior at the team pregame meal, having arrived for a trial from Boston.  Fellow former Terpie Olivia Wagner smacked a free kick into the wall shortly thereafter, then captain Lori Lindsey had two chances, the best a short range header she could only bounce right into the hand of the Maryland keeper from seven yards.

The Spirit pressure was a lot to absorb, but Maryland did just that, then in the 68th minute, it was high pressure of their own that paid off when Alexis Prior-Brown dispossessed Casey Berrier from about 40 yards out, and drove in on goal, fought off another challenge, and slotted home from 12 years to the far netting.

It was not the first, nor the last time Prior-Brown would cause the Spirit trouble. The athletic speedster had the best chance of the game for either team a few minutes prior, slicing down the left flank then cutting inside and firing from close range forcing Chantel Jones to push the ball over the bar.

Down by two, the Spirit continued to press, yet easily could have given up more at the same time. Between on-goal efforts by Ingrid Wells, Caroline Miller, and Diana Weigel, Maryland counter-attacked several times, with Ashley Spivey and Haley Brock both firing just wide on partial break-a-ways, and Ryan narrowly missing an empty net after pouncing on a shot that caromed off the far post right into her path 16 yards out.

Now the Spirit have two days to rest, recover, and prepare for Saturday’s final preseason match when they host Virginia at the Maryland SoccerPlex at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the final match of their “Free Spirit” preseason college exhibition series are free, with nearly 2,000 already claimed. Fans can download free tickets from tickets.washingtonspirit.com or simply “walk-up” at the Maryland SoccerPlex stadium gates on Saturday. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.