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The Washington Spirit professional women’s soccer team defeated defending NCAA champions North Carolina 2-0 today in front of 1725 fans at the sunny Maryland SoccerPlex. The Spirit have yet to concede a goal, in what was their third preseason exhibition game in two weeks, with two more to go until starting their first National Women’s Soccer League season in Boston on April 14.
The Spirit have now played 270 minutes of scoreless soccer at the back, despite starting today without several players expected to patrol the back line for the regular season, including international veterans Ali Krieger, Robyn Gayle and Candace Chapman. Krieger, Gayle, Ashlyn Harris and Diana Matheson all missed today’s game while on international duty.
The match almost didn’t happen, as North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance insisted on playing with college substitution rules, despite being the guests of a professional team with NWSL guidelines stating pro/college exhibitions follow the “no re-entry” substitution format. Not wanting to turn nearly 2,000 fans away, Spirit GM Chris Hummer reluctantly agreed to the change. The game was played with international clock, 90 minutes, counting up with the official time kept on the field by the referee.
Once the game got under way it was Carolina on the attack early, creating several chances, near break-a-ways and earning three early corner kicks. The Spirit held strong, and nearly countered on their own, with all three primary attackers in Tiffany McCarty, Caroline Miller, and Stephanie Ochs causing problems for the Tar Heels.
As the match wore on, U.S. National Team veteran Lori Lindsey took control of the midfield in combination with Ingrid Wells to consistently build Spirit attacks, keep possession when needed, and switch the point of attack. All three, key components of the game sorely lacking in last week’s 0-0 draw with Duke. Things are coming together.
Washington’s first goal came in the 27th minute when Tiffany McCarty was able to run by the Carolina right back onto an intercepted ball at midfield that caromed in her direction. Drawing three Heels towards her on the left side of the box, the Florida State and U.S. Under-23 star found a wide-open Caroline Miller 16 yards out at the far post. After a lose controlling touch, Miller’s first shot was blocked, but the rebound fell right to her and she wasted no time driving the ball home from 10 yards.
It was the first time the Spirit would have to play with a lead for an extended period of time, assuming they could keep their shutout streak alive for the remaining 63 minutes. In their exhibition opener with Penn State, they grabbed an 87th minute goal, and last week’s match with Duke finished in a scoreless draw.
Just after halftime, McCarty was at it again, this time running onto a flicked ball by Ochs, tipping the ball around an on-rushing defender, and running around the other side and in on goal alone. She calmly drew Anna Sieloff out, then expertly passed the ball just inside the left post to give the home team a 2-0 cushion just three minutes into the second half.
Carolina threatened several times in the second half, but struggled to generate chances, offering notable dip in attacking stats from the first half. The high pressure style of the 21-time NCAA champions did force some turnovers in the Spirit’s defensive end, but overall Spirit coach Mike Jorden seemed to have his team playing a more disciplined structure than in previous weeks, limited the danger.
Going the other way, Lindsey nearly put the game completely out of reach around the 75th minutes, with a 30-yard bomb pinging off the cross bar, and nearly falling to Miller before Carolina cleared their lines.
In the end, nearly 2,000 fans seemed to enjoy both the blue skies and the Carolina Blue competition on this Easter eve. The free event clearly had the intended effect of introducing the newest professional team to the Washington area audience, as well as did the live video stream, which at one time boasted nearly 500 simultaneous viewers, including an international audience. (the stream is available to watch at http://www.livestream.com/washingtonspirit/)
Next up for the Spirit, a short mid-week trip to College Park, Md. to face the Terrapins at Ludwig field. Kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Then back at the Maryland SoccerPlex to host Virginia at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 6. Tickets to both matches are free, with fans encouraged to download eTickets in advance at tickets.washingtonspirit.com.
Home Team: Washington Spirit 2
Visiting Team: North Carolina 0
Date: Mar 30, 2013
Venue: Maryland SoccerPlex: 11 (Stadium)
Regulation Length: 90
Weather: Sunny, Mild, Breezy
GOALS (Assists/2nd Assists)
27th Minute – Washington Spirit – Caroline Miller (unassisted)
47th Minute – Washington Spirit – Tiffany McCarty (Stephanie Ochs)
Washington Spirit / North Carolina
Shots: 11 / 7
Shots on Goal: 4 / 4
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 8 / 3
Fouls: 8 / 3
Offside: 7 / 2
Yellow Cards: 0 / 0
Red Cards: 0 / 0