Washington Spirit teammates embrace Joana Lohman after she scored the lone goal of their home opener at the Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex and Discovery Sports Center April 16, 2016 in Boyds, Maryland. Photo by N.King
The historic fourth season of the National Women’s Soccer League started off with a bang Saturday evening at the Maryland SoccerPlex between the Washington Spirit and Boston Breakers. To open the night, former USWNT goal keeping legend Brianna Scurry took a cermonial first kick in front of a crowd of 3,578 to symbolize a new era in women’s professional soccer in the United States. Never before has any women’s professional soccer league existed beyond three seasons. The NWSL is proving to all of those who doubted that this league is here to stay, as it continues to be a spectacular display of the magnitude of progress in Women’s Soccer both nationally and internationally. Washington Spirit Head Coach Jim Gabarra (previously head coach of Sky Blue FC) returns to Washington this year to ring in the fourth season milestone, just as he did in 2001 as head coach of the Washington Freedom in the WUSA league.
From the start the match was physical, and both teams appeared to have some nerves with miscues and missed passes. The Washington Spirit were first to find their footing in the third minute when forward Crystal Dunn served a ball across the face of goal connecting with midfielder Joanna Lohman who scored the first goal of the NWSL season in spectacular fashion with a bicycle kick to the far post. When asked about the goal Lohman remarked “It was a dream come true, hands down the best goal I have ever scored.” She added, “I can officially retire now.” The Spirit continued to press hard during the first ten minutes. They found success in touch and go passing, but their efforts did not amount to a change in the score line. In the seventh minute, Lohman tried her luck at goal again, but the shot was knocked away by Boston Goal Keeper Elizabeth Stout. Spirit Forward Estafani Banini an international player hailing from Argentina followed up but her shot went wide of the empty net.
Throughout the rest of the first half the Washington Spirit focused on maintaining possession and were successful at picking their moments to go forward. They had many players involved in the attack; in the tenth minute midfielder Christine Nairn took a shot from outside the 18 yard line in an effort to add depth to the attack. Forward and the NWSL’s 2015 Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn played unselfishly throughout the match, creating opportunities for her team mates by maintaining possession in the last third, serving the ball into the box from the wings, and sneaking passes through to team mates waiting in the box. Even Defender Ali Krieger was able to make successful overlapping runs down the right flank.
The odds seemed to be against the Boston Breakers for this match, even though the all time record between these two teams was 4-1-4 in their favor. This year, half of their 20 player roster is new to the team. Unlike the Washington Spirit they have not had the time to bond and understand each other’s runs and thought processes on the same level or depth that the Spirit team has been able to achieve. The Breakers were left reeling from the early goal and high pressure, but they were not disheartened. “To open the first ten minutes, to go down a goal I think was definitely tough for us, but I think as a team we showed resilience, and we were able to put together a fairly solid defensive performance after that,” Defender Whitney Engen quipped. Breakers’ forward Kyah Simon made fast runs in behind the Spirit defense, but was unable to properly time the runs as she was called offside four times in the first half alone. The Breakers success in the attacking third came in the form of corner kicks. They were awarded six corner kicks during the match, but were unable to convert any of their opportunities. Late in the first half, Boston midfielder Kristie Mewis attempted a shot near the 25 yard mark in an attempt to catch Spirit Goal Keeper Stephanie Labbé off her line, but it sailed just over the crossbar.
The second half began with a Boston corner kick, but it was promptly cleared by the Washington defense. In the 49th minute, Joanna Lohman once again attempted a bicycle kick on a cross from forward Dunn, but this time her effort was unsuccessful. The best chance of the match for the Boston Breakers came in the 55th minute when Forward Stephanie McCaffrey found space on the left flank. Washington Spirit Goal Keeper Labbé sprinted off her line to beat McCaffrey to the ball, but McCaffrey was there first and nudged it passed Labbé to the back of the box, but the touch proved to be too long for her to maintain possession.
In the 64th minute the Washington Spirit substituted 12th overall pick in the 2016 NWSL College Draft Cali Farquharson for Katie Stengel (who has joined the Washington Spirit this season after playing in Germany for FC Bayern Munich). Farquharson showed off her menacing speed and created a few chances including a cheeky attempt to chip the ball over the keeper, but she was unable to finish. She will be one to watch as she is able to settle down into her new position as a professional NWSL player. The only caution in the game came in the 86th minute when Spirit defender Megan Oyster aggressively swept Boston forward Simon’s legs near the midfield. The Spirit would ultimately hold Boston scoreless in their 2016 home opener, for their first home win versus the Breakers in the history of the league.
On Sunday April 24 the Washington Spirit will be in New Jersey to face Sky Blue FC at 6:00pm ET and the Boston Breakers meet Seattle Reign FC at home on the same evening at 6:30pm ET.