The Washington Spirit opened their first National Women’s Soccer League season Sunday night in Boston with a 1-1 draw, conceding a stoppage time goal by Sydney Leroux after a 16th minute goal by the Spirit’s No. 1 draft pick Tiffany McCarty, who headed in from top overall supplemental draft pick and fellow pro debutant Stephanie Ochs’ cross.
McCarty’s goal came somewhat against the run of play to cap a frenetic first 15 minutes of play in front of an announced sell out of 2,634 fans at Dilboy Stadium in suburban Boston. However, the goal seemed to calm the visitors, who then relied frequently on short combination play to beat pressure and keep possession, as well as strong flank play to generate several opportunities to extend their lead and seal the game before Leroux’s heroic equalizer.
The match featured plenty of pace and opportunities, with long stretches of possession for both sides, and several chances generated. Spirit Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was called on rarely in the end, but came up huge when she was called upon to keep her team in the match.
Once in the first half tipping over the bar at full stretch, then three times in the second half with some amazing saves, one of which stopping U.S. National Teammate Leroux point blank, requiring several minutes for the German league transfer and Florida native to recover her breath after a major collision.
In the end, Leroux had the last word, slotting home just inside the far post one minute into stoppage time after coming out of a tackle with Ali Krieger with the ball and getting time to pick her head up and spoil what looked liked a sure franchise opening road win for the Spirit.
The goal was payback for Leroux, who’s world-class speed was neutralized most of the night by Krieger and her Spirit defensive teammates. On one such occasion Leroux latched onto a giveaway in the Spirit midfield that put her in behind the defense in the left-center channel. Having already read the impending disaster, Krieger got a head start and tracked down the speedster, lunging to poke the ball out for a corner and likely saving a tying goal late in the first half.
Behind a strong defensive setup and composed possession, the Spirit could have doubled their lead several times in the second half, with midfield/forward Stephanie Ochs having the best chance around the 75th minute, finding herself in alone. Boston goalkeeper Ashley Phillips was up the task however, somehow getting an as yet unknown body part on the San Diego product’s close-range drive to keep the Breakers in the game.
Other opportunities on the night for the Spirit came in the form of a 20-yard drive from Canadian star Diana Matheson that Phillips barely pushed off the cross bar; and a scrum close range in the dying moments of the first half resulting only in a corner for the visitors.
In the end, a draw on the road would likely have been taken by head coach Mike Jorden and his new team if asked prior to kickoff, but the late concession leaves a slight taste of what could have been.
With two other NWSL opening weekend games ending in draws, and a fourth in an own-goal 1-0 victory by New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC over Western New York Flash, six teams are level in the league table with one point each, with the Spirit about to start a four-game home stand in the cozy, award-winning natural grass surface of the Maryland SoccerPlex.
The run of home games begin when the Spirit host the Flash and their star forward Abby Wambach at 7:00 p.m. next Saturday, April 20th. Tickets are still on sale at tickets.washingtonspirit.com, but team officials expect at or near a sellout and encourage fans to act quickly to secure access to the 4,500-capacity SoccerPlex.
Four players debuted as professionals tonight, two earning starts (Ochs and Julia Roberts) and two as substitutes (Domenica Hodak and Caroline Miller).
Earlier in the day the Spirit announced ‘Lightning’ Lori Lindsey had been selected as the team captain by Jorden, a decision receiving praise from the team’s fans via social networks.
Speaking of social networks, the Spirit’s Twitter account is picked up several hundred followers over the past two days, nearing 9,000 followers of @WashSpirit
The team also tweeted about their disgust with bus charter company U.S. Coachways after the charter firm dispatched an extremely old and beat up bus far below the standard the team had been promised. Unfortunately the company then also failed to deliver on a promised replacement, so the ‘First Ladies’ will have to trek home in the mold-infested jalopy at their own risk, while team management confirmed a different company had already been secured for the remainder of the season.
1 2 F
Boston Breakers 0 1 1
Washington Spirit 1 0 1
WAS: Tiffany McCarty (Stephanie Ochs) 15’
BOS: Sydney Leroux (Libby Guess) 91’
Shots: Boston 10, Washington 8
Shots on goal: Boston 7, Washington 7
Saves: Washington: Ashlyn Harris (6); Boston Ashley Phillips (6)
Corners: Boston 2, Washington 2
Offsides: Boston 1, Washington 1
Cautions: Boston: none; Washington: Ingrid Wells
Washington: Ashlyn Harris, Kika Toulouse, Robyn Gayle, Ali Krieger, Lori Lindsey, Diana Matheson, Julia Roberts, Ingrid Wells (Domenica Hodak 80’), Tori Huster, Tiffany McCarty (Caroline Miller 85’, Stephanie Ochs
Subs not used: Jasmyne Spencer, Chantel Jones, Teresa Worbis, Candace Chapman, Colleen Williams
Boston: Ashley Phillips, Jo Dragotta (Lisa-Marie Woods 86’), Cat Whitehill, Kia McNeill, Rhian Wilkinson, Heather O’Reilly, Joanna Lohman, Kyah Simon (Libby Guess 75’), Katie Schoepfer, Lianne Sanderson, Sydney Leroux
Subs not used: Cecilia Santiago, Mariah Noguiera, Adriana Leon, Kate Howarth, Julie King