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Whitney Church named NWSL Player of the Week

Spirit goalkeeper DiDi Haracic finished third after Washington’s 2-1 win over Sky Blue FC

Tony Quinn/Washington Spirit

Washington Spirit center back Whitney Church was named NWSL Player of the Week by the NWSL Media Association for her performance in the Spirit’s 2-1 comeback win against Sky Blue FC this weekend. Church scored her first-ever professional goal and also contributed to a excellent defensive performance against a club featuring the league’s leading goal scorer. Spirit goalkeeper DiDi Haracic came in third place. Haracic earned her first-ever NWSL win, making several big saves.

Church equalized for the Spirit in the 76th minute, heading Shelina Zadorsky’s corner kick past Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. In stoppage time, she prevented what looked to be a certain goal from Sky Blue, arriving just in time to block Kelley O’Hara’s shot at an empty net. Church and the Spirit defense managed to frustrate Sam Kerr, who was caught offside numerous times throughout Sunday’s 2-1 win.

“I think she’s been our best defender all year. She’s not the fastest, but she doesn’t get beat that often, she’s always in the right place. She not only wins the ball, she possesses it out of pressure. There’s a lot of balls that break lines that come from her, or balls that get wide so that player can break lines. She’s one of those unsung, unheralded players but we value her extremely highly,” said Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra after Saturday’s game.

Haracic made seven saves and only conceded one goal on Saturday against Sky Blue’s high-powered attack. Haracic has had to wait a long time to get her first NWSL win, having previously played for the Spirit Reserves in 2013 and 2016 and facing three penalty kicks in her only appearance for the Western New York Flash in an injury-shortened 2014 season. Years of waiting in the wings made Haracic’s first NWSL win even more meaningful to her.

“It means a lot, it’s my hometown... To play for my hometown [team], my mom is there, my sister is there, it means a lot,” Haracic said after the game.

Oddly enough, this was the Spirit’s third win of the season against Sky Blue, and after each of them the Spirit have had a player named NWSL Player of the Week. Francisca Ordega won after a 4-3 win in early May and Arielle Ship won following last month’s 4-1 victory.