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Washington Spirit improve after halftime, beat Duke 4-3

Two Katie Stengel goals pushed the Spirit to a comeback win over the Blue Devils

Cheyna Williams after she scored to tie the game 3-3. The Spirit beat Duke 4-3.
Caitlin Buckley

After conceding three goals in the first half, the Washington Spirit recovered to beat Duke University 4-3 in the Spirit’s third of four preseason games. Spirit forward Katie Stengel scored twice, while Meggie Dougherty Howard and Cheyna Williams each added a goal. The Spirit trailed 3-2 at the half but adding Joanna Lohman and Tori Huster helped significantly, and the Spirit responded with two goals and a vastly improved performance.

“There was a lot of backing off and not moving forward and pressing in an organized fashion, probably because they hadn’t done it together enough but the first half was disappointing because they hadn’t played the way we trained and some of it was due to the newness of the system and the newness of the players,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabbara said of Washington’s troubles in the first half.

The Spirit returned to the 4-3-3 the team used for most of last year, but were without Stephanie Labbe, Shelina Zadorsky, and Lindsay Agnew (all of whom are on Canadian national team duty). Duke was also missing a couple of their best players.

Rookie Cameron Castleberry’s college experience was mainly playing as a winger, but after two games as a right wingback in a 3-5-2, she started as right back this afternoon. While she had some defensive mistakes, her speed was helpful in generating attacks.

The Spirit had a poor giveaway in the 10th minute after Arielle Ship tried to pass to Line Sigvardsen Jensen in central midfield. Duke’s Imani Dorsey passed to Ella Stevens, forcing Kassey Kallman made a last second clearance a few yards from the Spirit’s goal. Washington had another defensive mishap a few minutes later when Duke played a ball over top the Spirit’s backline to Stevens and Johnson’s clearance went straight to Duke’s Kat McDonald, but Washington was able to clear.

Rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard was a bright spot for the Spirit in the first half and played well on both sides of the ball. Still, Cheyna Williams’ runs along the left flank were the main source of offense for the Spirit.

In the 23rd minute, Washington took the lead. Ship passed to Stengel, who had drifted away from her marker and had plenty of space to carry the ball into the box and slot it past Heinsohn. The Spirit made that goal look easy, which was not indicative of what was to follow in the next few minutes.

Soon after the goal, Whitney Church got knocked off the ball trying to shepherd it out of bounds. Duke had what looked to be a wonderful chance to score, but Johnson managed to recover and make a last-gasp clearance.

The Spirit didn’t take notice of the danger as Duke pressed upfield, and in the 27th minute the Blue Devils equalized. Stevens fired a hard shot from the right side, forcing Didi Haracic into a save. The ball was hit hard enough to cause a rebound, though, and Dorsey took advantage of the goalmouth scramble to equalize the game.

Just past the half hour mark, Dougherty Howard had an excellent pass through three Duke players to find Stengel, who carried it into a crowd of Duke defenders, wasting the opportunity.

Seven minutes later, Stengel made up for it. She checked to the ball, turned, and fed Dougherty Howard, who after a touch rolled a precise shot into the bottom corner to give the Spirit a 2-1 edge.

The game had been back and forth at the start, but the final 20 minutes of the first half were particularly rough for the Spirit. The midfield didn’t defend much which left the backline exposed, and in addition Washington’s passing touch seemed to leave them. Duke’s physicality tested the Spirit, with the Blue Devils often winning 50-50 balls.

“At time our lines between the midfield and the forwards, as well as the midfield and defensive line was too big,” Spirit defender Estelle Johnson said.

Duke added two goals in the final five minutes of the first half. Kayla McCoy scored a header from a free kick in the 41st minute, beating a crowd of players to a near-post delivery. It got worse for Washington just three minutes later, as Dorsey - a real bright spot for Duke - converted a looping long range shot after not being closed down.

At halftime, Tori Huster replaced Line Sigvardsen Jensen and Joanna Lohman came in for Dougherty Howard. Crucially, they also inverted their midfield triangle, getting Lohman and Huster into positions that they played all of last year.

The Spirit were collectively better right away, and it didn’t take long for them to equalize. Williams got the 53rd minute goal after a dynamic passing sequence between Kristie Mewis, an overlapping Castleberry, and Lohman, with Lohman passing to Williams inside the area before the second-year forward applied the finish.

Francisca Ordega came on for Williams in the 56th minute, earning her first preseason minutes after dealing with a left quad injury. The Nigerian international made an immediate impact, and within three minutes was involved in what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

After some Spirit pressure saw Duke half-clear the ball, Ordega tried to fire the ball back towards goal from a wide angle in the 59th minute. That effort was blocked, with both Stengel and a Duke defender contesting the loose ball. Stengel won the tackle, and with the ball rolling to an inviting spot, she uncorked a powerful long range shot that flew past Heinsohn and into the upper corner from over 25 yards.

The Spirit made more substitutions. Mewis exited in the 65th minute, with Havana Solaun coming in and playing right-center midfield (with Lohman taking over the left-center spot vacated by Mewis). Georgetown product Crystal Thomas replaced Katie Stengel in the 70th minute and played right forward, moving Ship to a central role.

Ship was active in this new role. She had one cross to Thomas that couldn’t be reached, and had a couple of near misses with shots of her own. Meanwhile, the subs continued, with trialist Lauren Lazo replacing Castleberry at right back in the 77th minute.

Haracic required several minutes of on-field treatment after landing in a crowd after making a punch, but ultimately stayed in the game. While Haracic was getting treated, trialist Gloria Douglas replaced Ship up front. The final 10 minutes went by uneventfully, with the Spirit controlling play but, despite a couple of half-chances, not adding to the scoreline.

Next week the Spirit will face University of Virginia in their final preseason match. Kickoff is set for 7pm at the Maryland Soccerplex.