Joanna Lohman and Kristie Mewis each scored as the Washington Spirit beat University of Virginia 2-0 in the Spirit’s final preseason game. Despite struggling to link up in the first half, the Spirit managed to limit the Cavaliers, who finished the game with one shot on goal. Mewis scored her fourth preseason goal in the 21st minute, while Lohman added her first preseason goal after halftime.
Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra deployed the same 4-3-3 as he did in last week’s win over Duke. The changes within the lineup included starting Lohman and Tori Huster over Meggie Dougherty Howard and Line Sigvardsen Jensen, the latter of which is with her national team.
The first twenty minutes were difficult for the Spirit, who struggled to keep possession. The team was playing at a higher tempo than other preseason games, but overall they seemed out of sync.
“It just seemed like we couldn't connect passes and we were a bit out of sorts. Knowing this is the last preseason game, the nerves grow and grow until the first game of the season. You realize you’re on the doorstep of your first game so you tend to put more pressure on yourself and it's hard to relax in the first ten minutes,” Lohman said after the match.
As was the case throughout the preseason, Cheyna Williams was often the target of attacking movies. UVA foiled them in the early going by catching her offside, however, contributing to the Spirit’s slow start.
In the 21st minute, however, Washington got on the board. Defender Kassey Kallman advanced up the left side to set up her former Boston Breakers teammate Mewis, whose short-range chip of the Virginia goalkeeper gave the Spirit a 1-0 lead.
Virginia is usually one of the most challenging preseason opponents the Spirit face but due to roster turnover, the Cavaliers were weaker than usual defensively. Nevertheless, Virginia effectively pressed the Spirit even though they couldn’t create an attack from the resulting turnovers.
Spirit goalkeeper Didi Haracic came off her line too quickly in a couple of instances which resulted in some nervy moments for the Spirit backline, but they nonetheless held the shutout.
Late in the first half, Mewis blocked a shot attempt following a corner that led to Williams facing only a defender between the midfield line and goal. Despite Williams’ efforts to beat her, Virginia recovered and confined Williams to the flank.
With nearly the final play of the half, Williams sent a hard-hit through ball to Stengel but Virginia’s goalkeeper got a hold of it.
As a whole, the second half was markedly better from the Spirit. Huster did a great job anchoring the midfield and pass completion improved throughout the team.
Huster nearly scored in the 52nd minute after she stripped a Virginia attacker of the ball and drove upfield. Her shot from a bit over 20 yards out beat the goalkeeper, but hit the crossbar, allowing UVA to scramble the ball clear.
While the Spirit had more opportunities, many of them were off target. It’s something the team could get away with against a college team, but against NWSL opponents those missed chances might come back to haunt them.
Nonetheless, the Spirit will be pleased that they started piling up chances. Stengel and Lohman each had looks in the 56th minute. Stengel’s close range shot was saved, and Lohman’s ensuing half-volley went wide. In the 63rd minute, Stengel rewarded a good run from Williams, but Williams’ shot from a promising position went wide.
In the 65th minute, Francisca Ordega replaced Cheyna Williams. This was Ordega’s second preseason game. The Nigerian international has played a wide role in both preseason games, perhaps indicating where she might start the season.
In any case, Ordega made an immediate impact. Within a minute of coming in, she whipped in low cross from the right flank that Virginia’s keeper blocked but couldn’t control. With the ball bouncing around in a crowd in the goalmouth, Lohman charged in to score from four yards.
A couple minutes later, Mewis swung a ball out to the right for Ordega, who ripped a shot that was saved but not held. No Spirit player could arrive in time to finish the chance off.
With twenty minutes left, Castleberry was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner and Meggie Dougherty Howard subbed in for Kassey Kallman. Huster moved to center back, with Dougherty Howard taking up her deep role in the midfield. Whitney Church slid over to take up Castleberry’s right back spot. Church has played right back before, but under Gabarra she has mainly played in the middle.
“It could happen later in the game,” Gabarra said of the move to drop Huster to the backline. “We also have Line [Sigvardsen Jensen] who can do the same thing, drop back in a center back position. We also want to see if in an emergency, [Church] can go out to the right. We also wanted to give Meggie some time, she’s had a really good preseason.”
Havana Solaun subbed in for Arielle Ship in the 79th minute, playing wide left, but by that point the game was more or less drifting towards its conclusion. In the 86th minute Virginia finally put a shot on frame, with Alissa Gorzak cutting into the middle before forcing Haracic to make a diving save.
Next week the Spirit will start their NWSL schedule, hosting the North Carolina Courage at the Maryland Soccerplex at 3:00pm.