The Washington Spirit kicked off the first game of the historic fourth season of the NWSL on Saturday, April 16. Maryland native Joanna Lohman scored a bicycle kick within three minutes of kickoff to propel her side to an early lead over the visiting Boston Breakers. The Spirit held on to Lohman's early tally to outlast their physical opponents and win 1-0.
Washington Spirit Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe, Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Caprice Dydasco; Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman, Christine Nairn; Crystal Dunn, Katie Stengel (Cali Farquharson 64'), Estefania Banini (Diana Matheson 75')
Two of the Spirit's three Canadian internationals started despite missing most of the past two weeks of preseason for two games against the Netherlands. Canadian midfielder and Spirit fixture Diana Matheson did not start. "The reason [Diana] wasn't included was because she had 90 minutes then 60 minutes on Wednesday and traveling," Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game.
Within three minutes, veteran midfielder Joanna Lohman executed a stunning bicycle kick to score the Spirit's first goal of the season. Crystal Dunn earned the ball on a counterattack and drove forward on the right flank. Six yards from the endline, Dunn crossed it to Lohman. Lohman didn't get much power on her kick but nonetheless sent the ball past Boston Breakers goalkeeper Libby Stout to hand the Spirit a very early 1-0 lead.
Neither side could keep possession in the first ten minutes but the Spirit's front six looked much more connected than the disjointed Breakers attack. Fullbacks Caprice Dydasco and Ali Krieger each made successful forays forward and helped break down the Breakers defense.
The game was hectic on both sides but at times, the Spirit were able to slow down the tempo and play calmly. Krieger attributed this to the Spirit's midfield and how the team transitioned. "On transition we would win it," Krieger said, "and then find these angle passes to beat their lines."
Ten minutes in, Nairn launched a rocket shot from 25 yards out but Stout made a diving save to keep the score 1-0.
The Breakers had several good chances in the following minutes. Australian international Kyah Simon beat two Spirit defenders but Spirit center back Megan Oyster blocked her shot. Boston continued to pressure the Spirit's backline yet Boston couldn't connect well enough on the attack to get a decent shot off.
Dydasco made a clever pass over the Boston backline to forward Katie Stengel who was ruled offside. "We really had them reeling in the first twenty minutes," Gabarra said, "I think if we could have gotten a second goal that would have made it a lot easier."
In the 23rd minute, Breakers midfielder Louise Schillgard served up a corner kick that curved inwards and Labbe caught it, barely a foot off her goal line. The Breakers celebrated as if it was a goal but the referee ruled that the ball did not fully cross the line.
The Spirit continued to look promising on attack throughout the first half but after good passing combinations or runs would fail to get a quality shot off.
The second half started off physical and hectic but the Breakers nearly scored ten minutes in. Stephanie McCaffrey won the ball near the midfield and launched into a one-woman attack on the left flank. Labbe came a couple yards out of her box to halt the charge. Though Labbe didn't touch it, the Spirit goalkeeper disrupted McCaffrey's run enough that the Breakers forward lost control of the ball and it rolled out for a goal kick.
Ten minutes later, Krieger lofted a cross in from the right side but Stout caught it cleanly. The Spirit called for a penalty kick when in the 68th minute, Lohman was pulled down while trying to finish a cross from Krieger and the ball hit Lohman's face. The referee didn't call a foul and the chaotic second half continued.
In the 86th minute, Oyster earned a yellow card for a tactical foul on Simon, while at the other end substitute Cali Farquharson had several good chances on the left flank but the Spirit settled for a 1-0 win in their first game of the 2016 season.
Next Sunday at 6pm, the Spirit are on the road against Sky Blue. The team returns to the Maryland Soccerplex on Saturday, May 7 against the Portland Thorns.