It’s finally here.
After months of excitement surrounding the launch of a new league and franchise, the Washington Spirit will officially open their National Women’s Soccer League season on Sunday in Boston, taking on the Breakers for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Dilboy Stadium that will be streamed live at www.youtube.com/bostonbreakerstv.
And that’s just one part of the buzz around the team this week. Not only are the Spirit set for their first pro match, but they’ll have the full roster together for the first time since early in the preseason.
“We had various players in and out, and national team players out and then in and then out again,” head coach Mike Jordan said. “Now everybody is back, and for us, just having everybody together for a few days has been very good. Everybody is excited.”
Defender Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris returned from the U.S. national team to rejoin the Spirit on Thursday, while defender Robyn Gayle and midfielder Diana Matheson came back from duty with Canada on Tuesday.
Those players will contribute significantly to what is expected to be a strong defensive unit, as the Spirit opened their preseason series with consecutive shutouts of reigning national champion North Carolina and top college offenses Penn State and Duke.
“I think we’re pretty good there,” Jorden said. “We have some leaders back there. Candace Chapman is coming along, and obviously Ali Krieger and Robyn Gayle are international players who are very good. We also have some younger players, like Kika Toulouse and Tori Huster, and they’ve been very good in the preseason.”
The opening two matches will be a test of the back line’s mettle. The home opener on April 20 brings a visit from the Western NY Flash and world’s top player, forward Abby Wambach. And the Breakers have plenty of offense to go around as well, featuring talented young forwards in rising U.S. star Sydney Leroux and Australian Kyah Simon, as well as U.S. midfielder Heather O’Reilly.
While Washington boasts its most experienced players on defense, there are high hopes for the attack as well.
The young trio of forwards — Tiffany McCarty, Stephanie Ochs and Caroline Miller — have shown flashes of what made them such dangerous scorers at the college and youth national team levels, and Jorden looks forward to watching them progress as the season goes on.
“We have a group of really exciting younger players that are going to be good for our team,” he said.
But there’s no question that the heartbeat of the club is its veterans, and the returning national team players were a welcome sight around Spirit training this week.
Krieger and Harris started and played 90 minutes in a 3-1 U.S. win over the Netherlands on Tuesday, while Matheson started in Canada’s 1-1 draw with France and 1-0 loss to England, and Gayle came on as a substitute against France and started the sequence that led to her team’s equalizer.
Thankfully, Jorden said, the quartet came back in one piece. “Just like the players that are here, the internationals go away and get knocks and bangs and then they come back and you have to see where they’re at,” he said. “I think that come this weekend we should have just about everybody healthy.”
All Washington Spirit matches will be streamed live at YouTube.com/NWSLSoccer, and single-game tickets are on sale for all home contests at the Maryland SoccerPlex, beginning with a visit from Wambach and the Flash on April 20. For more, visit washingtonspirit.com/tickets. Over 2,000 tickets have been sold for that game to date and the team is expecting a near sellout of their 4,500-capacity award winning soccer stadium in suburban Washington, DC.
Here are some more links to opening weekend previews around the media world. Post any we missed in the comments below.