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Playing their best soccer of the inaugural NWSL season, the Washington Spirit (3-14-4, 13 points) will go for their third straight victory as they conclude the year against playoff-bound Sky Blue FC (10-6-5, 35 points) at Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Sunday, 5 p.m.). The game will be streamed live on YouTube.
After going winless in 13 consecutive matches over a frustrating stretch of two and a half months, the Spirit have posted back-to-back 1-0 shutouts at home of the Chicago Red Stars and Seattle Reign FC.
In their season finale, the Spirit will get one more chance to post a result against Sky Blue, which won each of the teams’ three previous encounters by a one-goal margin.
“I think we’re going for another win at home,” Spirit midfielder Diana Matheson said. “I know the last two games against them, we felt like we should’ve done better. We thought we could’ve got a result in both of those games, so we’re going to try and get one this time.”
Matheson is coming off earning the Spirit’s first NWSL player of the week award this year after posting a goal and an assist during last week’s pair of wins. Against the Red Stars on Aug. 7, Matheson assisted on Lupita Worbis’ game-winning goal in the 58th minute, executing a perfect give-and-go with her Mexican international teammate. Three days later, Matheson got behind the Seattle back line in the 83rd minute, slotting home the game’s lone goal past Hope Solo from a narrow angle. The Canadian veteran has been a key offensive force for the Spirit, leading the team with eight goals – tied for fourth in the NWSL – and three assists.
The win over Seattle was also the second straight clean sheet for the Spirit, this time earned by goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who returned to net after a two-game absence and finished with five saves. In front of Harris, recent signing Marisa Abegg has helped solidify the defense, showing signs of the massive influence she played for the D.C. United Women in each of the last two seasons.
“We’re starting to get things right,” Spirit head coach Mark Parsons said, “and it has given us insight to what we expect be like on the field next year. The evidence has been consistent throughout the team in practices and games, even if it hasn’t always been in our results. We’re committed to showing our passion in front of our fans one more time and finishing off the season in the right manner.”
All three contests between the Spirit and Sky Blue this season have been achingly close. The New Jersey club claimed the latest two encounters on their home turf at Yurcak Field Stadium in Piscataway by a 1-0 margin on game-winning strikes by Monica Ocampo. In the most recent clash on Aug. 3, the Mexican international struck in the 58th minute on a feed by Katy Freels. On July 6, Ocampo ran onto an open shot inside the box after Danesha Adams had her shot blocked in the 74th minute.
In the teams’ first meeting at Maryland SoccerPlex on Apr. 27, Sky Blue prevailed by a 2-1 score. Coco Goodson put the visitors ahead two minutes into the match with a header off a corner kick by Adams. Matheson leveled the game in the 35th minute, but Sophie Schmidt put Sky Blue ahead for good in the 48th minute, set up by Australian teammate Lisa De Vanna.
Sky Blue begin the season’s final week even in a three-way battle with Portland Thorns FC and the Western New York Flash to determine playoff seeding following a wild 3-3 draw on the road against the Chicago Red Stars. Ocampo scored twice and Schmidt also tallied for Sky Blue in the contest.
Ocampo leads Sky Blue with eight goals, followed by Schmidt, who has seven, and De Vanna, who has five goals and two assists. Freels leads the team with six assists.
In the net, goalkeeper Jillian Loyden (four appearances, 21 saves) has started the last three contests. She missed most of season after breaking a bone in her left hand at the Algarve Cup with the U.S. national team in March. Fellow goalkeeper Brittany Cameron leads the team with 64 saves in 17 appearances.
In conjunction with the season finale, the Spirit have partnered with the Army National Guard to present Military and Hometown Heroes Night. Courtesy of the Army National Guard, tickets will be distributed to members of the military as the Spirit and the Army National Guard show their appreciation to local area military members as well as local fire and police departments.
The Spirit also announced that 2014 season ticket deposits are now being accepted. A fully refundable $25 deposit will hold a place in the seat selection line for next season, entitling the holder to the opportunity to choose a seat when the tickets themselves go on sale later this month, with seat selections being offered in the order that the deposits are received. More information can be found at WashingtonSpirit.com/SeasonTickets.