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Washington Spirit can’t solve UNC in 0-0 preseason draw

Despite near-constant possession, the Spirit couldn’t break through against the Tar Heels

Kelley Piper

The Washington Spirit essentially monopolized the ball in yesterday’s preseason clash with the University of North Carolina, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw against the resilient Tar Heels. In front of a capacity crowd of 2,000 at the Evergreen Sportsplex, Washington looked at ease on the ball, but a lack of a cutting edge meant that they only broke through UNC’s bunker sporadically throughout.

Missing the USWNT trio of Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, and Andi Sullivan, Richie Burke’s lineup was a bit more experimental than we saw in Washington’s first two preseason matches. Tegan McGrady made her first start after previously being limited by a minor hamstring complaint, playing on the left of a back four featuring projected starters Paige Nielsen and Sam Staab at center back and rookie Dorian Bailey on the right.

Australia international Amy Harrison made her first appearance for the club in a box-to-box midfield role, partnering Tori Huster in the Spirit’s engine room. Cheyna Matthews and Megan Crosson, after starting as fullbacks against James Madison University and FC Girondins de Bordeaux, were the wingers against UNC, with Jordan DiBiasi starting as the playmaker and Arielle Ship replacing Ashley Hatch up front.

Ship carved out the game’s first chance by pouncing on an attempted backpass to UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey. Along the endline, Ship tried to square the ball for Matthews, but Dickey managed to cut the ball off before it reached its target.

Matthews was heavily involved as both a creator and the target of Spirit service. McGrady showed some speed to get down the left to cross towards Matthews midway through the half, but the ball was deflected away by the Tar Heels at the last moment. In the 29th minute, with Matthews and Crosson having switched flanks, a cross from the overlapping Bailey found Matthews at the back post, but her side-footed volley didn’t quite have enough power on it to give the Spirit the lead.

At halftime, Burke brought Meggie Dougherty Howard and trialist Tiffany McCarty into the game, with McCarty replacing Ship up top. Dougherty Howard took over at the base of the midfield trio, with Huster dropping into a center back role.

UNC — who only had 14 total players in uniform due to youth national team call-ups and college soccer’s schedule compressing an entire season into the autumn months — had set up in a low block from the start, and the Spirit struggled to break them down as the second half wore on. While Washington had all of the ball, the tempo of the game slowed to a crawl as the Tar Heels stayed organized and prevented any space between their lines.

Finally, as UNC clearly began to tire in the final 15 minutes, the Spirit started to knock on the door. A Spirit free kick that saw Joanna Lohman have to act as a football-style holder due to the wind ended up deflecting off the wall before substitute Bayley Feist fired a shot on goal in the 76th minute. Minutes later, a creative flick from Bailey allowed her to shed two defenders. There was a large gap between UNC’s center backs, but the Spirit’s attacking runs didn’t get there in time, and Washington eventually settled for a long-range shot that wasn’t a threat.

Perhaps the Spirit’s best sequence of the game came in the 82nd minute, as a quick succession of one- and two-touch passing pried the Tar Heels open. Eventually Feist, who was playing left back in the final minutes, angled a run wide to draw a defender before picking out McCarty inside the box. McCarty was mobbed by defenders, but while falling managed to lay the ball off for DiBiasi, whose venomous strike from 22 yards forced Dickey into a tough save.

The Spirit’s best chance was also their last look. DiBiasi exchanged passes with Lohman before pushing into a pocket of space in the 84th minute. Matthews slashed in from the right, and DiBiasi rewarded the run with a perfect through ball. With a crowded penalty area preventing any chance of picking out a teammate, Matthews had to go to goal from an angle, only to be denied by a splendid kick-save from Dickey.

Still, UNC nearly stole a victory with virtually the final play of the game. With the Spirit throwing numbers forward, the Tar Heels broke up an attack before pushing the ball out to the right wing. With numbers available on the counter, the ensuing cross was a real threat, but neither team could make any contact as the ball bobbled through the area, with Aubrey Bledsoe eventually shepherding the ball past her far post and out of danger.

Washington will conclude their preseason schedule next Saturday night with a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Kickoff at the Maryland SoccerPlex is scheduled for 7:00pm.

Box Score

NWSL Preseason
Washington Spirit 0
North Carolina Tar Heels 0

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Dorian Bailey, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab (Meggie Dougherty Howard 46), Tegan McGrady (Carlin Hudson 72); Amy Harrison (McKenzie Berryhill 65), Tori Huster (Joanna Lohman 72), Jordan DiBiasi; Cheyna Matthews, Arielle Ship (Tiffany McCarty 46), Megan Crosson (Bayley Feist 58)

UNC (4231): Claudia Dickey; Bridgette Andrzejewski, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Morgan Goff, Hallie Klanke; Maggie Pierce, Taylor Otto; Rachel Dorwart, Laura Sparling, Maddy Schultz; Alessia Russo
Note: UNC used NCAA substitution rules, with Miah Araba, Abby Masden, and Natalie Chandler all seeing time and multiple starters being subbed back into the game at various times

Spirit - Dougherty Howard 70
UNC - None