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As far as home openers go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
For starters, the Washington Spirit’s match against the Western New York Flash at 7 p.m. Saturday night will be their first ever National Women’s Soccer League home game, and they’ll take the field in a Maryland SoccerPlex Stadium that’s fresh off a face lift to reflect the branding of its new tenants.
Then there’s the opponent, as the Flash come in after winning three titles in three years across three leagues. They’ll be led by reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach, who formerly made her living in D.C. during two stints with the Washington Freedom.
And finally, after a season-opening draw at Boston, it will be the Spirit’s first chance to see what they can do with a full week of training together.
“It’s pretty exciting,” forward Tiffany McCarty said. “Hopefully a lot of people come out and support us, and hopefully we give them a good show.”
All signs point to that wish coming true, as more than 3,300 seats have been sold so far, and the club is expecting a near sellout of the 4,500-capacity Maryland SoccerPlex. Tickets are available through washingtonspirit.com/tickets until 5:00 p.m., then will be limited to walk-up, and the evening will also feature the return of the Beer Garden, with gates opening 90 minutes before kickoff. Those unable to make it to the match can watch the action live from the team website.
It’s no secret that the main focus for the Spirit will be stopping Wambach, who’s widely recognized as the world’s best player and sits within striking distance of Mia Hamm’s all-time international goal-scoring record of 158 with the U.S. national team.
But recent days have brought encouraging signs for the Spirit, who saw their bid at a road victory dashed by a stoppage-time equalizer against the Breakers on Sunday. This has marked the first time that the full roster has been together for a full week of training, as players were in and out for national team duty during the preseason.
“It’s getting better every day,” head coach Mike Jorden said. “[Thursday] in practice we were very, very sharp. We’re getting to know each other a little better each day, and I expect that’s going to continue to grow with us.”
McCarty and captain Lori Lindsey said they noticed a difference too, as having a full slate of players has led to an uptick in competition and in recognizing how they fit together.
That’s especially important for McCarty, who will look to build off her first professional goal last weekend in Boston, when she headed in a cross from Stephanie Ochs in the 16th minute.
“I think we’re all kind of meshing well together, moving well off each other, learning the runs and how other people play and our tendencies,” McCarty said. “I think the more we play together, we’ll be successful.”
They’ll test that developing chemistry against a Flash side that has a winning tradition.
Head coach Aaran Lines’ tenure in Rochester has produced titles in the W-League (2010), Women’s Professional Soccer (2011) and WPSL (2012), something Lindsey and Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris are quite familiar with.
Both have played under Lines with the Flash, and Lindsey has little doubt that her squad will face a stiff challenge from the visitors — particularly after they were the lone team to lose their opener, a 1-0 defeat to Sky Blue FC.
“There’s a winning mentality up there,” Lindsey said. “They’ll definitely fight, especially after losing on Sunday. They’re not going to be happy about that, so they’ll try to steal some points.
“It’s our first home game, so we’ll have to match their competitiveness and their eagerness to fight. I think this is a great matchup, with some areas we can exploit them in, but I think it will be a dogfight for sure.”