This Saturday, the Washington Spirit earned their first-ever preseason win against the University of Virginia. The game was played in three 30-minute periods, which provided coach Jim Gabarra an opportunity to evaluate 21 players under difficult weather conditions.
First period lineup: Wys; Kleiner, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Church, Nairn, Banini; Dunn, Stengel, Williams
Whitney Church, a rookie right back for the Spirit last year, started as a defensive midfielder against Virginia. Tori Huster, a mainstay for the Spirit, wasn’t available for the Spirit’s first scrimmage. Huster hadn’t trained an entire week so Gabarra said he was interested in evaluating a few different players in the number six role. "You know typical rough start, playing out of position or somewhere new," said Gabarra of Church's performance. "I thought she handled herself and she played better by the end of those thirty minutes."
Argentinian midfielder Estefania Banini started the Spirit preseason quickly, scoring in the third minute. The play started when Caprice Dydasco sent Christine Nairn a weighted through ball. After the Spirit earned a throw in, forward Katie Stengel delivered a pass to Banini who flicked it in, scoring the Spirit’s first preseason goal of 2016.
Virginia pressed hard and Cavalier forward Veronica Latsko gave Caprice Dydasco and Estelle Johnson trouble with her speed and footwork. In the fifteenth minute, Nairn took a signature-Nairn shot from distance which bounced off of goalkeeper Morgan Stearns. Banini scored off the rebound to double the Spirit’s lead.
Using Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams’ speed, the Spirit connected well on the flanks. Banini and Nairn dominated the middle and combined well with the Spirit’s front three.
Second period lineup: Wys; Krieger, Oyster, Fiebernitz, Dydasco; Lohman, Nairn, Aedo; Dunn, Stengel, Farquharson
After the first period, the Spirit made five substitutions, bringing in non-roster invitees such as Mary Katherine Fiebernitz and Yanara Aedo. USWNT defender Ali Krieger also returned as did veteran Joanna Lohman. The Spirit continued to connect well through the flanks and Krieger provided good service from right back. Washington earned their first corner kick in the 38th minute after rookie Cali Farquharson fumbled a shot in front of goal but Virginia ultimately kicked it out of bounds.
Nairn sent the corner back to Fiebernitz, about 25 yards from goal who in return passed it back to Nairn, still at the endline. Nairn delivered a low, driven cross which bounced off a Virginia player before Stengel scored.
The Spirit kept pressuring Virginia and earned many good chances. After only a week of training, the Spirit’s chemistry wasn’t perfect. There were two instances in the second period where the timing of the passes was off and Stengel got called offside.
In the final minute of the second period, Nairn delivered a cross for Aedo but her shot went high.
Third period lineup: Wys; Krieger, Johnson, Fiebernitz, Kleiner; Wilson, Lohman, Murphy; Raso, Ordega, Weimer
Following the second period, coach Gabarra made seven substitutions. Rookies Alli Murphy and Kara Wilson replaced Nairn and Aedo in the midfield and the Spirit substituted their three forwards.
Thanks to Francisca Ordega and Lohman the Spirit drew two shots in the first ten minutes of the third period. In the 63rd minute, Ordega drove endline and earned the Spirit a corner kick. Weimer delivered a nice corner kick, but Ordega’s header went wide. Five minutes later, substitute goalkeeper Kelsey Kilgore saved Lohman’s shot from the right side of the box.
Virginia also earned more opportunities in the third period. Kleiner deflected a cross wide in the 71st minute and a minute later Olivia Hazelrigg fumbled a cross. Wys also collected two Virginia through balls in the final fifteen minutes.
Overall, the Spirit looked fluid and creative in their first win against Virginia. Despite issues on defense, the Spirit looked strong, especially for their first preseason match. After some anemic years on offense, the Spirit displayed punch in the final third, even without Crystal Dunn.