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When Maryland coach Jonathan Morgan sat down to settle his team’s preseason plans, there was one game he had to have — one he’d been eying ever since the Washington Spirit were announced as members of the National Women’s Soccer League.
“This was something we knew right away would be great for our team,” Morgan said. “We quickly got on the horn with the Spirit and wanted to see if we could make this work. It was an ideal game.”
The feeling was mutual, and the two teams will face off Wednesday evening in a match that could carry big benefits for both. The young Terrapins get to test themselves against professional competition, while the Spirit will play their first-ever away game in advance of an NWSL-opener at the Boston Breakers on April 14.
Wednesday’s match will kick off at 7 p.m. at UM’s Ludwig Field in College Park, and while admission is free, fans are encouraged to claim tickets through the Washington Spirit online ticket portal (tickets.washingtonspirit.com).
The match will mark the fourth of the five-game “Free Spirit” preseason series, with the finale set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m., when the Spirit will welcome Virginia to the Maryland SoccerPlex.
“These games have offered our team a great platform to connect with our fan base and prepare for the NWSL season,” Spirit head coach Mike Jorden said. “Maryland has a great young team, and we’re excited to go up against a very talented squad from right here in our backyard.”
Jorden’s side will make the 30-mile drive to College Park hoping to keep an impressive streak alive. In three matches against Penn State, Duke and UNC — two of the top college offenses and the defending national champions — the Spirit have yet to concede a goal.
To push that unblemished run another 90 minutes, they’ll once again have to overcome the absences of four international veterans, as defender Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris are with the U.S. national team, and defender Robyn Gayle and midfielder Diana Matheson are away playing for Canada.
What’s more, the bright, young Terps will present a challenge.
Maryland (14-7-2, 6-3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) finished No. 16 in the nation and tied for second in the ACC last season, encouraging accomplishments for a team that counted six freshmen and two sophomores among its starters.
Led by one of the ACC’s best goal-scorers in rising senior forward Hayley Brock, who found the net 13 times in 21 games, the Terrapins are out to improve upon a second-round exit from the 2012 NCAA tournament.
“I think last year we didn’t really know what to expect because we were so young, and as the season was going we had a lot of success,” Morgan said. “The dreams, aspirations and goals all kind of got bigger as the season went along. For it to end the way it did in the second round against Denver really left a bad taste in this group’s mouth, and it was pretty disappointing.
“Their motivation to be great next year and to advance further is huge. You can see it in training, lifting and conditioning, and this match is going to help us prepare for next year.”
They’ll see a pair of familiar faces on the other sideline.
Spirit midfielder Domenica Hodak wrapped up her UM career last season with 82 appearances (No. 15 all time), and defender Skyy Anderson was a mainstay on Maryland’s back line from 2008-11.
Those two alumni serve as examples for the current Terrapins who are hoping to make the leap to a pro career — another reason why Morgan is happy to have the Spirit just a short drive away.
“For some of these kids who want to play professionally and be part of the national program, this is a great game for them to measure themselves and see where they are,” Morgan said. “They’re going to be able to compete against some of those players that are part of the national program and against seasoned professionals. What better way for them to measure themselves than to compete against those type of players?”