Germantown’s professional sports franchise, the Washington Spirit will host the Boston Breakers in the 2016 season opener at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday. The Spirit are part of the National Women’s Soccer League, which begins its history-making fourth season of play this weekend.
Previous attempts at a women’s professional soccer league did not last more past the third season. However, the NWSL is on great footing as the women’s game becomes more and more popular after the United States Women’s National Team victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup last year and the excitement building toward the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio this summer. The NWSL is entering its fourth season with all eight founding teams and two expansion teams, the Houston Dash in 2014 and the Orlando Pride debuting this season.
Last year the Washington Spirit drew 40,865 fans to the SoccerPlex in the 2015 season, averaging 4,087 fans per game over the 10 game season.
The Spirit will open the season at 7:00 pm at Maureen Hendricks Field in the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds against the Boston Breakers, who come to the Germantown area after suffering through a 4-13-3 season in 2015 and finishing at the bottom of the NWSL standings.
The Spirit, who lost just one home game all last season, look to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish. The Spirit have finished in fourth place the last two years, but a new coach and some new blood hope to earn more road wins and move up from finishing just out of the money for the third year in a row.
In October, the Spirit named Jim Gabarra as the club’s new general manager and head coach for the 2016 NWSL season. Formerly the head coach for Sky Blue FC, Gabarra earned a record of 24-22-21 over the three seasons in the NWSL.
“Jim has put more time and energy into the coaching and managing side of women’s professional soccer than anyone in the game,” said Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch in October. “I am thrilled that we were able to collaborate with Sky Blue FC to give Jim the opportunity to get back home and bring him to the Spirit.”
The Spirit needed to find a new coach after Mark Parsons, who had been the head coach and general manager of the team for two years left to take the head coaching job at the NWSL’s Portland Thorns at the end of the 2015 season.
The Spirit will also be without fan favorite goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who was selected by the expansion Orlando Pride team as their number one goalie.
The Spirit roster includes three players who have been with the Spirit since the inaugural 2013 NWSL season – FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion Ali Krieger, Olympic bronze medalist Diana Matheson, and the player who has made the most all-time appearances for the Spirit, Tori Huster.
Crystal Dunn, 2015 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner, will return for her third season with the team. The roster also includes promising newcomers including Canadian Federation Players Shelina Zadorsky and Stephanie Labbé as well as forward Katie Stengel. As well as, Nigerian National Team forward Francisca Ordega.
The Spirit will go into the 2016 season adding two players selected in the NWSL Draft back in January. The Spirit’s top two picks, forwards Cheyna Williams, from Florida State and Cali Farquharson, from Arizona State, have been made the roster.
“We could not be more pleased with our draft,” said general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. The Spirit selected Williams with the 7th overall pick. Williams started every game for the Seminoles in 2015 as they reached their 5th consecutive College Cup. She led the team with 10 goals on the season. With the number 12 pick, the Spirit selected Farquharson, who is the second all-time leading scorer for the Sun Devils with 44 goals. She led her team in goals and points all four years of her ASU career.
Earlier this week, the Spirit waived Australian National team player Hayley Raso, She played in nine games (two starts) including the club’s semifinal match. Raso made her senior international debut for Australia in June 2012 when she was only 17-years-old. She was a member of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup team for the Matildas.
“Waiving Hayley was a very difficult decision,” said Spirit general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “It was good to get to know her and give her the opportunity to hold on to a roster spot. We wish her good luck and thank her for her contributions to the Spirit.”
Tickets for Saturday’s season opener are still available by calling 301-337-8579 or visiting the Washington Spirit website.
Top: Crystal Dunn (19), 2015 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner, will return for her third season with the Washington Spirit. Dunn lead the league in 2015 with 15 goals.
Next: FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion Ali Krieger (11) will again be with the Washington Spirit for the 2016 season.
Next: Last year, goalkeeper Kelsey Wys (18) was an able replacement for times when Ashlyn Harris was on USWNT duty. This year Wys will be competing with Canadian Federation goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé.
Next: Nigerian national team player Francisca Ordega (14) will be back playing for the Spirit again this year. She had three goals and two assists.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.