The name changed but the chance for a championship is just the same.
In 2012, D.C. United Women came within a match of reaching the W-League championship. With many of the same faces now wearing Washington Spirit jerseys, the Washington Spirit Reserves will attempt to go one better when they face the Pali Blues (Calif.) in the W-League Tournament semifinals (Friday, 2 p.m. ET) at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
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The base group of this team has shown more commitment than I’ve seen in 15 years of doing W-League teams,” said Spirit Reserves general manager Tim Schweitzer. “They’re just so dedicated.”
Their names are familiar, too.
In forward Ashley Herndon (six goals), midfielder Hayley Siegel, defender Tiffany Brown and goalkeeper DiDi Haracic (0.608 goals against average), the Spirit Reserves have benefited immensely throughout the season from an anchor of returning players. Their presence was reinforced by the introduction of U.S. under-20 forward Alex Doll, English forward Amber Stobbs (four goals, nine assists) and Portuguese National Team midfielder/defender Monica Mendes (two goals, one assist). Stobbs and defender Meghan Cox were named to the All-Northeastern Conference team.
But even that doesn’t quite explain the balance throughout the roster.
“It’s weird to say, but we have a great group where its hard to make a distinction in terms of talent and leadership,” Schweitzer said. “That’s a difficult thing to say. We’re built around 11 players, and that’s phenomenal.”
A four-game winning streak early in the season and a three-game stretch late that included back-to-back victories and a draw put the Spirit Reserves in position for the postseason.
They also had to deal with the promotion of head coach Mark Parsons to the first team, but the club simply promoted W-20s coach J.P. Sousa up a level as well, and the seasoned coach who also leads the Catholic University women’s program made sure to change little when he took the helm.
The Spirit Reserves dropped their regular season finale at the conference-leading Virginia Beach Piranhas only to storm back on the road against the same team a week later and use a pair of second-half goals to come from behind and topple the Piranhas, 2-1, in the Northeastern Conference Final.
On Friday in what is expected to be the marquee of two semifinals, Washington will face the Blues, who tumbled in penalty kicks in the 2012 championship. Ashley Nick (seven goals) and Sarah Killion (two goals, eight assists) have helped Pali go unbeaten in its last four matches.
The winner will face the Carolina Elite Cobras or Laval Comets in Sunday’s championship (2:30 p.m. ET).