At the start of a new season with high hopes, the Washington Spirit learned that taking on a winning mentality isn't as easy as flipping a switch, or starting a new season.
Losada put Western NY up 1-0 just 15 minutes into the match with a head-turning, long-range shot that both caught the wind and then caught Washington goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris a few yards off her line.
"I was playing a high line today. That's something we've been working on as a team-staying as high as we can, putting pressure on the opposing team, and making sure I can play that sweeper/keeper type of style where I get the ball at my feet," said Harris. "It's a learning process. She did what she needed to do on her end and I've just got to do better with it next time."
On the whole, the first half was very evenly contested. The new-look Spirit offense was highlighted by forward Jodie Taylor's sometime frenetic play that kept the Flash defense a bit off balance while defensive midfielder Christine Nairn seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
"What Christine did today-we worked hard to bring in a squad full of that-they play under pressure," said Spirit head coach Mark Parsons. "She was turning Carli Lloyd. If she lost it, Carli's in. But she had the courage and was brave enough to spin and start linking. Everyone else--they've got the ability--we just need everyone else to have the confidence that she did.
Washington tried to get forward Renae Cuéllar in behind the defense, but never quite connected. (Several characteristic Cuéllar offside calls didn't help either.)
Going into the second half, you had the feeling if Washington scored early, they might be able to grab the momentum.
In the 50th minute, Nairn's corner kick sailed past just about everyone, somehow found ground and bounced into the goal. And with that Nairn accomplished something the 2013 Spirit never did-a goal off of a corner kick.
But the tie was short-lived with Washington giving up a goal off a free kick in the 54th minute. It was Losada, again, with the free kick, sending a nifty ball across the goal and finding Brittany Taylor, who easily lost Washington's Cuéllar, who had been assigned to mark her on the set piece.
The goal killed what small bit of momentum Washington had gained after equalizing. And Parsons saw glimpses of last year's midseason frustration and wasn't happy with the mentality his team exhibited.
"When we scored 1-1, did it affect them? No. They were ready to do their thing," Parsons said. "It's our responsibility as staff, as well. We've got to put accountability on some of the players to say this is about you believing. But we've also got to help with that culture-raise expectations and push people through some tough stuff throughout the week."
Team captain Ali Krieger echoed Parsons' comments about the need to shift to a winning mentality.
"We really have to just continue to believe in ourselves and continue to think that we're going to win the game, no matter what the score is," Krieger said.
The final Flash goal pretty much carved up Washington's central defense with Tori Huster and Toni Pressley caught pushed forward, leaving Adriana Martin and Losada far too much space to work and Harris no support. Martin fed a perfectly paced ball in the 67th minute to the streaking Losada, whose shot flew past Harris for the 3-1 lead and her second goal of the match.
Washington was really not able to seriously threaten again. A few less than positive habits snuck back in and the team struggled to work with the wind at their backs.
Organization was also a problem for Washington the whole match, something that will likely improve in time. But competition won't get easier for the Spirit, as Washington hosts FC Kansas City, another 2013 playoff team Saturday. Krieger believed there was no need for stress at this point of the season.
"We are going to be one of the top teams," said Krieger. "It's just a matter of playing with each other, getting comfortable with each other, and getting out here and proving that."
On a positive note, Washington midfielder Jordan Angeli made her return to professional soccer after three years recovering from an ACL tear, her third on the same knee, when she entered the game in the second half. She said coming on as a substitution helped her keep her emotions in check.
"It's kind of mixed emotions. I'm so excited. It's hard to believe it's been that long. When I went back out it felt like it was just yesterday," Angeli said. "But it's tough getting a loss in that game and not being able to make the impact that I wanted to when I came on."
"There's a lot of positives. In the first half, even though we were disappointed in how we looked, we could have been up a couple of goals-to give up a goal like that is horrific. I thought they looked dangerous by playing a bit direct, getting wide. Their wingers are very dangerous players. I think we did a good job of keeping Lloyd very quiet. We didn't feel there was much danger unless it was us giving the ball to her and not linking properly. In the first half, Jodie Taylor, I think, was terrorizing them...Christine Nairn was doing great work in getting on the ball, and where other people may be hiding, Christine was looking to be the person to go get on it. She was going to be the person to start linking. Jodie was going to be the person to start stretching people. I'm happy with that. But the rest of the first half, we've just got to believe in ourselves a bit more and play what way we want to play. New York were good-they were one of the best sides in the league last year. They showed it every single week."
"But the mentality when that second goal went in is not acceptable. There’s too many people on the field saying, “here we go again.” No, that was last year. That was when we had a different group of players, when we had different preparation. We’ve had time together. We’ve had great time. We’ve looked good. We’ve looked sharp. We’ve looked sloppy. We’ve had highs and lows. But that mentality is not acceptable, and we’re going to hit that straight away tomorrow. We’ve got so much ability and quality. We’ve got the ability to break anyone down and stop anyone. But when people don’t believe it, and then their body language shows, I’m not going to be happy at all. And then we just moved away. When things aren’t going well, and you don’t believe it, you go back to bad habits...It’s a different beast this year. I’m really, really excited about what we can do. But we’ve got to improve that mentality."
"Losada from New York was something special. That was the first time I’ve ever seen her. I think she was the difference through out the game."
"It was good to get out here. It's the first game of the season so it's early on-we have plenty of time. But it's good to get out and finally get comfortable playing with each other."
"It's a tough loss. We have worked so hard. We had higher expectations. But we're going to work on the little details. There's no stress right now for us. We're going to take care of things and learn off this game. We'll watch a lot of video and figure out the little details that didn't quite go right. We'll be completely fine. We're going to work hard this week and focus now on the next match."
"We tied it up so we felt really comfortable, then we wanted to score right away again. Unfortunately that didn't happen. Down on the other end, they ended up scoring. We let back a little bit and got kind of in defensive mode."
"I'm not sure quite what happened with the organization. I just think we tried to attack a lot more, we tried to hit longer balls, along with the wind-that kind of helped. We tried to play some balls into Jodie-she was making excellent runs. We thought we could actually get her in and get some shots on goal. But that wasn't the case-we gave the ball away a little too much in the second half. We're going to continue to work on things, and hopefully in the next game clean up the little the little details a little bit and get the win."
"This game doesn't define this organization. It doesn't define us, as team or individuals. We've worked really hard in the offseason. We didn't bring it. We didn't turn up today. It's a disappointment. We're all pretty bummed out about it. But this is part of sports. If you don't do the small things right, you get picked apart. Credit to them. They looked great. They moved the ball well. They're well organized. And we struggled. We were in it. Things didn't really bounce our way a few times. We could have had a few half chances, a few goals. But that's the sport. This is what it's about. They put away their opportunities."
"We looked a little tired today. Maybe that's five weeks of preseason, probably. It's catching up with us a little bit. It's a learning process for Mark too. We're so eager to play, we're so hungry, after training we're trying to get more reps-more things done to feel that good technical part inside that we're taking care of the small details. But sometimes it's too much. We kind of flirted with it a little bit. You could see the weather played a little factor. It was hot today. We're not used to that right now. We struggled, we looked tired. We've got to do better job of tapering maybe."
"Credit to my team. Even when we were down a couple goals, we still got the ball and we played. We didn't panic, we didn't just start kicking long balls. We want to play good football. We want to play good soccer for the fans. I think we did that. We didn't panic at all. This game could have been easily 3-3, if we would've put our chances away. There's a lot of great things we're taking from this. We're going to build and next week you're going to see a different team."
"It's kind of mixed emotions. I'm so excited. It's hard to believe it's been that long. When I went back out it felt like it was just yesterday. But it's tough getting a loss in that game and not being able to make the impact that I wanted to when I came on."
"I hadn't talked to Mark all week. I prepared myself...I was hoping I would get in. I think it was good. It helped me kind of control my emotions a little bit. When I got out there, I felt like it was just any other day on the pitch."