Washington Spirit Return to NWSL Play Tonight Against Wambach-less Western New York Flash

Cynthia Hobgood

After a match hiatus since May 25, the Washington Spirit (1-4-3) return to the Maryland SoccerPlex tonight to take on Western New York (4-2-2), looking to take advantage of missing offensive pieces for the Flash.

Washington enters the match eight points behind Western New York, which has not lost since the first month of the season. After beginning the NWSL's inaugural season 0-2-1 in April, the Flash have won four of five matches and drawn just once against the Breakers on June 5. The team is in third place in the league with 14 points, eight back of Sky Blue FC and Portland.

More than 4,100 tickets have been sold to the game, which is the second of a doubleheader with the Spirit Reserves USL W-League team that is hosting the New Jersey Wildcats at 4pm. (This writer wonders how many of those buyers knew Wambach would not be with the Flash tonight, but I suppose that should not matter.)

Both sides will play without three key starters away for national team duty. Washington will miss Ali Krieger, who was called up for the US two-match set with South Korea tonight and Thursday, along with Diana Matheson and Robyn Gayle--both traveling with Canada for a June 19 match against Germany in Paderborn, Germany.

Western New York will take the field without leading scorer Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, both on the US roster, and Samantha Kerr, who joined the Australian senior squad for camp this week in Canbarra, Australia.

The Spirit called up Reserves defender Danielle Hubka to fill Krieger's spot on the roster for Saturday's match. The University of Maryland graduate has spent time in the U.S. National Team system and been strong on the Spirit Reserves back line that has earned three straight shutouts.

Two new players will also be available as Mexican Women's National Team veteran Teresa "Lupita" Worbis joined the team in late May after completing architecture degree, while recent signing and U.S. U-23 Women's National Team defender Toni Pressley gained her international clearance on Thursday.

Worth noting officially, Worbis' Mexican teammate, Alicia Garciamendez, who was also allocated to the Spirit will not join the team once she finishes her senior year at Stanford. Instead, she has signed with 1. FFC Frankfurt in the Frauen-Bundesliga.

Western New York also called up a Maryland grad in forward Ashley Grove, the Flash's fifth pick (5th round) in the 2013 NWSL Supplemental Draft. Grove left the Terrapins ranked fifth all-time in points (64), sixth in career goals (23) and eighth in all-time assists (18).

And The Winner Will Be...

A prediction in this match, which will highlight players I've never seen play is difficult. But on paper, I give the edge to a well-rested Washington squad that keeps consistency with Ashlyn Harris in goal, veteran Lori Lindsey in the middle, and its stable of young forwards for the match. How well Worbis will fit into the attack is a huge question mark, but the team speaks highly of her.

Though captain McCall Zerboni will be on the field, the Flash will be hurting not only with the loss of Wambach, but also Kerr, who is seemingly involved in every goal. Lloyd has also started to chip in on offense, after her return from a shoulder fracture earlier in the year.

Being without Mattheson, who has generated the majority of Washington's offense will be a challenge, but the bigger question mark is the leadership of the backline. The health of Candace Chapman is unclear, Pressley is making her first start, and center back Tori Huster will be tested with both Gayle and Krieger no longer flanking her.

"It's pretty easy when you have Robyn Gayle and Ali Krieger next to you, and Ashlyn Harris behind you," said Huster after a successful evening shutting down Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan against the Portland Thorns. "One of the big things we focus on is communication. And communication from Ali and Robyn has been phenomenal and it makes my job so much easier."

Looking FORWARD

There was much excitement earlier in the week Washington agreed to loan terms with German forward Conny Pohlers, whom the team will look towards for jump start the offense. The 34-year-old striker is coming off an historic championship campaign with Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg during which she became the all-time leader in goals scored in European competition.

Pohlers helped VfL Wolfsburg capture its first UEFA Women's Champions League in title in May, along with Bundesliga and German Cup trophies. She scored 32 goals in 35 appearances across all competitions, capturing her third Champions League title with a third different club, having won also with FFC Frankfurt in 2008 and Turbine Potsdam in 2005. Pohlers won the 2008 title alongside current Spirit defender Krieger, who the Spirit say she contacted in March about playing in the NWSL this summer.

"She's a world class player who has scored goals at every level. We're extremely excited to get Conny onto the field," said Spirit Head Coach Mike Jorden. "She also will be a great mentor for the young group of attackers we have here today."

The visa process held Pohlers up in Germany for this weekend, but all paperwork is complete, and she is expected to arrive next week and to travel for our Sunday, June 23 match at FC Kansas City.

Get used to hearing Matheson to Pohlers for the goal. This could be huge for Washington. It is no secret the biggest missing piece for the Spirit has been a veteran goal-scorer. If Pohlers joins the team in form, she will not only score goals, but likely help the rookies do the same.

Pohlers has been a little big of magic for her German club teams. It is not a coincidence that FFC Frankfurt's troubles started in 2011 when she departed for Wolfsburg. She won't be here for long, but look for Pohlers to make an impact on a impressionable Spirit side.

If you can't be at the SoccerPlex

For fans unable to attend, the Spirit will stream Saturday's NWSL match live from the Maryland SoccerPlex on washingtonspirit.com at 7 p.m. EDT.


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