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Washington Spirit roll out 3-5-2 in preseason win over Penn State

Newcomer Kristie Mewis scored twice as the Spirit won their first preseason contest

Caitlin Buckley

Washington Spirit midfielder Kristie Mewis scored two goals to lead her new club to a 3-0 win over Penn State. Katie Stengel, who scored four goals last season, converted a penalty kick while also getting an assist on the first of Mewis’s goals. In a game divided into three 30-minute periods, the Spirit rotated through players under contract during the first hour before giving many trialists a chance in the final half-hour.

While there were plenty of familiar faces on the field for Washington, some players were missing. Stephanie Labbe hasn’t arrived at preseason camp yet (though it appears she’ll be in town soon), while neither defender Alyssa Kleiner nor forward Francisca Ordega were in uniform. The fitness of the latter duo could not be confirmed at this time.

The Spirit fielded the following lineup in the first period:

The first period was rather uneventful, owing much to both the preferred tempo of both teams - the Spirit are known for a patient approach under Jim Gabarra, while Penn State understandably sat deep against a professional side - and the fact that neither team is in mid-season form.

The 3-5-2, a carryover from last year’s NWSL final for Washington, featured unsigned draft pick Cameron Castleberry and Kassey Kallman (mostly known as a center back who can play wide left during her time with the Boston Breakers) as the wingbacks. Kallman played 60 minutes and won several headers. Castleberry was strong going forward from the right flank, but Penn State’s rare attacks came mostly on her side. Lacking a true attacking midfielder, the Spirit generated their attacks via high pressure and crosses from out wide. The triangle of Sigvardsen Jensen, Huster, and Lohman kept much of the possession, but the Spirit couldn’t do much with it.

At the other end, the Nittany Lions did force DiDi Haracic to sprint well off her line to clear the ball in order to prevent breakaways from the Spirit’s right side on two occasions, but otherwise the action took place in Penn State’s half.

After the first break, the Spirit made some changes, with Mewis and rookies Meggie Dougherty Howard and Arielle Ship replacing Lohman, Sigvardsen Jensen, and Castleberry. The 3-5-2 remained, but with some tweaks:

Mewis performed well as an attacking midfielder and exploited the space Penn State left open between the lines. That boosted the Washington attack, and the first goal didn’t take long to arrive. A few minutes into the second period, Arielle Ship (a 2017 Seattle draft pick acquired as part of the Diana Matheson trade) was fouled inside the box, drawing a penalty kick. Penn State goalkeeper Rose Chandler, who almost managed to make the save, but Stengel put enough on her low spot kick to give the Spirit the lead.

Stengel got an assist ten minutes later when she made a run into the penalty area before dishing to Mewis, who beat her defender, and converted to the far post to double the Spirit’s lead.

After the Spirit’s second goal, Lindsey Agnew replaced Cheyna Williams. Agnew, a signed draft pick and Canadian national teamer, took up the right wingback spot Williams had played in the second period.

Shortly before the period ended, the Spirit got their third goal. Picking up a pass from Dougherty Howard, Mewis took advantage of a large gap between the Penn State midfield and defense. Surging forward, the former Bayern Munich midfielder launched a low rocket from 25 yards that flew into the lower corner.

Mewis and Stengel almost linked up again in the final seconds, with the former chipping the Penn State backline. Stengel poked the ball goalward, but Chandler’s quick reaction off her line closed the space, denying the Spirit a fourth goal.

Gabarra tried out many non-roster invitees in the third period:

Lauren Lazo, who played left back for Boston in 2015, could make the roster to add depth to a Spirit team that traded Ali Krieger and has a while to wait on Caprice Dydasco (torn ACL) to return to full fitness.

As the final third of the game wore on, Kori Butterfield replaced Haracic in goal. Marion Crowder subbed in for Ship with twenty minutes left, while Gloria Douglas replaced Mewis.

Understandably, the unfamiliar lineup was unable to produce much of an attack, though the Spirit had several long-range shots go wide or high. Washington continued to use pressure to pin Penn State back, but there were no genuine chances either way as the match closed out.

Overall, Mewis performed well and should be a bright spot for the Spirit this year. A Huster-Lohman-Mewis midfield could work, but might require Lohman to hold her position more rather than covering tons of space trying to force turnovers. It remains to be seen whether the 3-5-2 is Gabarra’s full-time preference for the season, or whether the 4-3-3 Washington played in 21 of 22 games last year is still a possibility.

Next Saturday the Spirit’s preseason continues at the Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Virginia, where they’ll take on the University of North Carolina Tarheels. It will be the first-ever match of any kind for the Spirit in Virginia, and unlike this year’s preseason games at the Maryland Soccerplex, tickets will be $10.