It would be understandable if, at some point Saturday evening at the Maryland SoccerPlex, Virginia head coach Steve Swanson has a brief moment of confusion.
After 13 years with the Cavaliers, Swanson knows his role well, but leading UVA against the Washington Spirit will present a unique task: coaching against five of his former players.
Goalkeeper Chantel Jones, defender Kika Toulouse, forward Caroline Miller and midfielders Lori Lindsey and Julia Roberts all played under Swanson at Virginia. And when the Cavaliers captured last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference title, it was with Miller and Roberts on the field.
“It will be good to see the Virginia alums up there,” Swanson said. “Whether it’s watching games on television, going to see them, or in this case playing against them, we’re excited to support them. They’re competitive, and once the whistle blows I think it will be competitive like it should be. Afterward we’ll be able to get together and catch up a little bit.”
Aside from serving as a mini-reunion, Saturday’s match carries plenty of meaning for the Spirit as well.
With their National Women’s Soccer League opener at the Boston Breakers looming on April 14, this is the final match of the five-game “Free Spirit” preseason series, and a great opportunity to continue preparations for league play. Previous games produced a 1-0 win against Penn State, a scoreless draw with Duke, a 2-0 victory against North Carolina and a 2-0 loss to Maryland.
“I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made this preseason,” Spirit head coach Mike Jorden said. “But we still have a lot of things to work on before we jump into NWSL play, and it’s always great to test yourself against a quality college opponent like Virginia.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Maryland SoccerPlex, and tickets are free, with fans only needing to claim theirs through the Washington Spirit online ticket portal (tickets.washingtonspirit.com). All tickets are general admission, and team has even lifted the limit of 2-tickets per order due to demand from youth teams looking to attend together. Over 2,000 tickets had been claimed as of mid day Friday.
As has been the case for most of the preseason, the Spirit will be shorthanded while Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are on international duty with the U.S. and Robyn Gayle and Diana Matheson are playing for their native Canada.
But there’s talent on deck, and Jorden and the Spirit will be looking for an uptick in offensive production. Miller is one of the driving forces behind the Spirit attack, as the rookie is coming off a blazing season at UVA in which she won ACC Offensive Player of the Year, became the school’s first MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist and finished with 45 career goals, a total that ranks second all time.
With that kind of resume, it’s a safe bet that the current crop of Virginia defenders won’t let Miller out of their sight.
“It’s hard to believe that Caroline has come through the program and will be on the other side,” Swanson said. “It will be great to see Caroline and we miss her already, but it’s just part of the evolution of players. On one hand it’s hard to see them on the other side, but you’re excited to see them starting their careers.”
Swanson is busy preparing the next group of UVA players for pro careers as well, and getting a chance to face the Spirit will certainly aid in that quest.
Coming off an ACC title, he said he was most proud of the attractive style his team played last season, and he’s looking forward to improving on that in 2013.
Midfielder Morgan Brian and forward Makenzy Doniak are two players to watch, as they will lead the Cavaliers’ attack without Miller. Both have featured in the U.S. national team programs, with Brian starring for the U-20 squad at the Women’s World Cup and Doniak earning a recent call-up to the U-20 training camp.
Saturday brings a chance for them and the rest of the squad to go head-to-head with pro players — including the familiar faces.
“We have a lot of goals as a program, but one of the main ones is to develop players for the next level,” Swanson said. “We’re extremely proud of all of our players, and it’s great that we have players who are playing professionally and still in the game.
“This is just a great game, and we’re excited about the chance to see where we are against a team the caliber of Washington.”
Fans who do not claim tickets online in advance are encourage to come out to the game and pick up tickets at the gate. Full concession offerings will be available as well as the chance to win a team autographed jersey. The players will sign autographs after the game as well.