By Kevin O’Rourke
As if Saturday’s game against the Sky Blue FC didn’t already loom huge for the Spirit, with yet another win-and-in playoff situation, when add the possibility of the last home game for Spirit favorite and women’s soccer legend Lori Lindsey, Saturday’s game becomes, what the Spirit press office termed, “the most important game in Spirit history.”
If the Spirit win they lock up the 3rd spot in the playoffs, with a draw or a loss, well in that case, their playoff fate is in the hands of the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars.
The Spirit should have a rest advantage heading into this game, having last played a week ago, and Sky Blue is coming of a Wednesday night 4-2 over the Western New York Flash. However, Saturday’s game is no easy test for the Spirit. Sky Blue have become the Spirit’s nemesis since the NWSL’s inception. The Spirit have yet to beat the Sky Blue in NWSL competition with an 0-3-2 lifetime record. Sky Blue has finished the season strong, winning 4 of their last 5 matches.
The Spirit could have clinched a playoff spot last week with a win over the Seattle Reign, but came up just short, giving up a last minute equalizer, and walking away with a draw. In that game, the Spirit jumped out to an early lead on a goal from Diana Matheson, but gave up the equalizer in the 89th minute as Seattle forward Megan Rapinoe connected with Kim Little on a pass into the box, who found the back of goal.
Once again, the Spirit hold control over their destiny. A win brings them to 38 points on the season, a number that Chicago and Portland cannot reach. If the Spirit tie, that brings them to 36 points, which Chicago and Portland can pass depending on their results.
But it was an announcement, yesterday from veteran midfielder Lori Lindsey which rocked the women’s soccer world and piled on more emotional pressure for the Spirit to win on Saturday.
Lindsey, 34, announced her retirement from professional soccer at the end of 2014. She is a veteran of the US National Women’s Team, with 31 international appearances, including as a member of the Women’s World Cup in 2011. That squad that brought the team back into national prominence, finishing as runners-up to Japan after thrilling early round and finals matches.
She will finish her second year with the Spirit after playing with a number of professional teams, including the Washington Freedom, which played in the now defunct WUSA, who also played in the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. A Washington, D.C. resident, when Lindsey was allocated to the Spirit in for the inaugural season in 2013, she served as the Spirit’s first captain.
Lindsey released an “Open Love Letter to Soccer” in announcing her retirement yesterday. “In many ways you were my one true companion,” Lindsey wrote of soccer, “the one thing I could count on. The countless hours we spent alone together. The days dribbling in the rain, juggling in the snow, passing in the heat….You had become much more than a game to me. In many ways you had become my life, my driving force, my fire, my hunger.”
“Now as this part of the journey comes to an end, and our relationship changes yet again, I thank you Soccer for all that you have given me,” she wrote. You can read Lindsey’s entire letter here.
Spirit head coach, Mark Parson called Lindsey “the heartbeat of our club” on Twitter. Congratulations on an incredible career. Such an inspiration and role model,” he tweeted.
Two year Spirit teammate Tori Huster tweeted that Lidnsey was “an absolute inspiration and one of the best humans I’ve ever met.”
While fellow Spirit teammate and current USWNT member Yael Averbuch tweeted, “So incredibly grateful to have played with Lori Lindsey. One of the most genuine and funny human beings I’ve ever met and a joy to play with.”
Regardless of the outcome, Lindsey will have more soccer to play this year as she will finish out her spectacular career by playing with the Canberra United team in the Austrialian W-League.
The Spirit will again not have the services of starting goaltender and USWNT player Ashlyn Harris who is still listed as out after missing last week’s game with concussion symptoms. Once again Chantel Jones will get the call to fill Harris' cleats in a big game.
Tickets for the Spirit’s final regular season game against Sky Blue FC on Saturday at 6:30 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown are still available at the Spirit website.
Top: Spirit's Crystal Dunn takes a shot on goal. The Spirit will play Sky Blue FC for a spot in the NWSL playoffs on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Middle: Spirit's Lori Lindsey announced her retirement yesterday.