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After an unforgiving schedule of four games in 11 days, the Washington Spirit (1-10-4, 7 points) have welcomed the return to a normal training schedule for the first time in July. Even the intense heat hasn’t dampened morale. Players have been excited for genuine work sessions under new head coach Mark Parsons, who hasn’t had ample opportunity to develop a practice rhythm with his team since taking the helm on July 1.
Then again, a normal work week is anything but normal. Washington returns to action on Saturday, July 20, at Chicago and then gets seven days to prepare to host Boston on July 27. But that game will begin a stretch of six games in 23 days to close out the season.
On Thursday, the players took to the field at Maryland SoccerPlex early in the morning to avoid the worst of the soaring temperatures. They worked on playing quickly in tight spaces to open the door for offensive opportunities. Forward Stephanie Ochs was the last one on the pitch, working afterward on shooting.
“He’s trying to hammer in a lot of the simple things,” Spirit defender Toni Pressley said. “I think we have the tendency to over think sometimes and play the perfect ball when someone three yards from you is the better option. We’re trying to get those basics back and ingrained again.”
Pressley’s physical presence in the center of the Washington defense has been an important one since she joined from Russian side Ryazan VDV in early June. But no matter where she’s played lately, having fellow Florida State teammates around has been a constant. She went abroad with former Seminole midfielder and native Russian Katya Gokhman, who was of particular assistance in the translation department. She now plays with college teammates Tiffany McCarty and Tori Huster, old friends who’ve helped her feel at home.
“The soccer culture [in Russia] is just completely different,” Pressley said. “The level was a lot higher than I expected it to be, and I definitely grew as a player there. A lot of the players were really technical, and it was just always really fast, and that got me able to play a lot quicker.”
Thrown immediately in to anchor the Spirit back line hasn’t been easy, but the 23-year-old sees positives and has welcomed being back in the U.S.
“Coming in I was just really excited,” Pressley said. “We’ve struggled a little bit, but I think we’ve made some major improvements, and I think we’re also learning about each other and our tendencies. I think moving into these games, I think we’re going to do better.”