The Washington Spirit hope to continue their undefeated season on Saturday as they take on the Chicago Red Stars, top team in the National Women’s Soccer League at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.
The Spirit welcomed Women’s World Cup heroes Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris home with a sell-out crowd and a brief ceremony before last week’s 3-0 victory over the Seattle Reign. While Krieger and Harris didn’t play last week, they will be back on the pitch this Saturday.
“These are exciting times,” said Spirit Head Coach and General Manger Mark Parsons about the U.S. Women’s National Team victory in the Women’s World Cup last month. “The biggest thing for me is that it is not just young girls, and moms and dads seeing their girls inspired by this, I am seeing young boys running around talking about the women’s team and pretending to be one of the USWNT players. People who were not talking about the sport of soccer are now talking about the sport. I think that is pretty special.”
The excitement was evident by the 5,413 filling the sold-out seats at Maureen Hendricks Field in the Maryland SoccerPlex last week to welcome Krieger, Harris and the other Spirit players who participated in the Women’s World Cup.
The sold out crowd watched the Spirit defeat Seattle on Goals from Amanda Da Costa, Crystal Dunn and Christine Nairn, keeping them undefeated at home.
After a scoreless first-half, scoring began early, as Dunn took a shot on goal seconds after the whistle blew to start play. Dunn shot and Da Costa put the rebound into the back of the net, giving the Spirit the lead in the 45th minute.
The Spirit held the momentum throughout the second half, with the return of Diana Matheson, dribbling through the midfield to the top of the eighteen, passing to Dunn, who cut past her defender and her shot was perfectly weighted into the corner. Dunn secured her eighth goal of the season and the Spirit took a 2-0 in the 68th minute.
Matheson, who is a Spirit fan favorite, returned and immediately gave Spirit fans something they’d been looking forward to seeing since last season, an assist to Dunn for a goal. The goal, is Dunn’s league-leading eighth goal of the season.
Coach Parsons said he had a quick chat with Matheson earlier in the week prior to the game. “I wanted to make it clear to Diana that she has inspired the women on this team as much as other players who have scored World Cup goals or won the World Cup.”
Matheson, who is a member of the Canadian Women’s National team, tore her ACL in October and while making a comeback from injury she broke her metatarsal. “She still got on the pitch in the quarter finals of the Women’s World Cup. I made it clear to hear that it is always about the process and effort that she put in to make that comeback. The fact that she got on the field just eight months later inspired all of us on this team and club.”
The last goal for the Spirit came in the 82nd minute, when Dunn cutting through defenders was fouled inside the box and a penalty kick was rewarded to the Spirit. Nairn stepped up to take the kick, and buried it into the back of the net.
This coming Saturday, July 25, all the Women’s World Cup stars will be back on the field as the Spirit will host NWSL leading Chicago Red Stars and their four USWNT members, forward Christen Press, defender Julie Johnston, midfielder Lori Chalupny, and midfielder Shannon Boxx. Other FIFA Women’s World Cup players on the Red Stars are forward Melissa Tancredi (Canada), goalkeeper Karina LaBlanc (Canada), forward Adriana Leon (Canada), and defender Abby Erceg (New Zealand).
“We are at home and this year we have been incredible at home,” said Parsons when asked about playing the top two teams in the NWSL back to back. “And it is not just results, our performances at home have been the types of things I dreamt of when I took over as coach. When I took over the team, I had a vision of what the team would look like and we have looked like that vision playing at home. Being home gives us real confidence and the addition of Diana being available. And these are the top teams in the league. I would be more concerned if we were playing teams that weren’t higher up in the league standings. Our history has shown against the best teams, we put our best performances.”
“There is such a buzz,” said Parsons. “We are in a great spot, because there has been so much outreach by our club over the last three years, and with this boost, that what we are now seeing is the result of our hard work and it will help grow support for the league.”
Indeed that success of the USWNT in the World Cup has helped the NWSL. Last weekend, three of the four NWSL games were sold-out, with crowds averaging 3,922 across the league. The Spirit crowd being the largest.
“The biggest thing is getting people into the stadium at the Maryland SoccerPlex,” said Parsons. “Once people come, we don’t often lose them. They come back because it is a special place. We have very talented players and they are doing well as team. But that buzz in the stadium and everyone feeling like they are a part of something pretty unique.”
Washington Spirit single game tickets and group packages are now available. Check out all of the phenomenal NWSL soccer at the Maryland SoccerPlex by calling 301-337-8579.
Top: Crystal Dunn continued her goal scoring ways with one goal and one assist in Saturday’s 3-0 victory on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Next: The Washington Spirit honored FIFA Women’s World Cup participants prior to Saturday’s game. Pictured are retired Spirit player and USWNT member Lori Lindsey, 2015 Women’s World Cup Champions Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, Canadian Women’s National Team member Diana Matheson, and Australian Women’s National Team member Haley Raso, who made her Spirit debut last Saturday.
Next: The Seattle Reign had opportunities off of numerous corners last Saturday but goalkeeper Kelsey Wys stayed strong in front of the net, to earn a clean sheet.
Photos by Germantown Pulse