Crystal Dunn and Christine Nairn each scored second half goals to lead the Washington Spirit to a 2-0 win in a Saturday afternoon game against defending national champion Penn State.
Two minutes into the second half, rookie forward Cheyna Williams drove endline, turned, and passed back to Dunn. Dunn, around six yards out, calmly finished to give the Spirit the lead. "In the goal that I scored, Cheyna made a great run and I think it was our chemistry that allowed us to make that give-and-go," Dunn said.
In the 73rd minute, the Spirit earned a free kick from around 20 yards out. Christine Nairn stepped up and hit a low, driven free kick that went past the wall of Nittany Lions and in. After the game, Nairn acknowledged it wasn’t typical free kick. "I can’t take all the credit because their wall was a little over-shifted," Nairn explained, adding"Whether the wall was wrong or not, seeing the ball go into the back of the net, whether or not you hit it where you want, it’s in."
As they did against Virginia, the Spirit connected well on offense- especially between Katie Stengel, Dunn, and Williams. Stengel functioned well as a true nine but had issues getting a shot off quickly. Late in the first half, Dunn stole the ball at midfield and dribbled to around 20 yards out before laying it off to Stengel. Stengel played with the ball too long and allowing two Penn State players to close in on her.
Penn State pressured the Spirit into committing many turnovers in the first half. In the 27th minute, Canadian centerback Shelina Zadorsky committed a nearly lethal turnover but the Penn State forward’s shot clanged off the crossbar.
"We’re asking the team to possess the ball and pressure as well and they were willing to press us and force us into mistakes and that’s how you learn." Jim Gabarra said. The Spirit head coach also added that the Spirit weren’t patient enough on offense, "We wanted to move it side to side but I think we regret moving it so much and not being patient and moving them before we change the point of attack."
The Spirit became calmer in the second half and moved better as a team. Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe replaced Kelsey Wys and Estelle Johnson came in for Zadorsky at centerback. Second-year defender Caprice Dydasco replaced Alyssa Kleiner on defense as well.
In the first half, there were a few miscommunications on defense, especially with through balls. Gabarra attributed some of this to a lack of chemistry. "That’s the first time Shelina and Megan have played together outside of a couple times in training. You know, I think, Shelina, she wants to be very vocal and lead and that takes some getting used to.," Gabarra explained, "Then you put Estelle, an experienced player who played with Megan most of last year, so that could have been the reason."
U.S. women’s national team defender Ali Krieger also agreed with Gabarra that the team played better in the second half. " We kept the ball the second half, we had so many good chances in the second half and it should have maybe been like 8 to nothing. It was really good possessionally and that’s what we wanted to do from minute one."
The University of North Carolina needed to cancel next week’s game because of lack of player availability so the Spirit will play an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday at 4pm.