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Four things about the Washington Spirit finding a way past the North Carolina Courage

Players talking NWSLPA & BWPC, an injury update, & the joy of going to Cook Out

Andrew Mead / ISI Photos / Courtesy of Washington Spirit

The Washington Spirit had to dig deep to get a 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage on Wednesday. Like, deep: Andi Sullivan was out, the Spirit had never won in NC, the playoff race is as tight as it’s ever been in NWSL history, and at least according to acting head coach Kris Ward, the fluency within how the Spirit played wasn’t quite there on the night. Despite all that though, they fought to get the win thanks to some timely strikes from Trinity Rodman (own goal or not) and Julia Roddar, and a vintage Aubrey Bledsoe performance.

This one’s a long one thanks to some very thoughtful quotes from Tori Huster and Tegan McGrady post-game, so I’ll just say me (Jason) and André have thoughts, and these are those thoughts:

Players first

(Questions have been edited for clarity, while player quotes are verbatim)

Today the Players’ Association announced that as a group, you’ve agreed with NWSL to extend the deadline on your demands about needed improvements league-wide by five days. I know the specifics might not be ready for the public yet, but could you let us in on what allowed that to come to pass?

Tegan McGrady: I know the Players’ Association has been having meetings. I think Tori can talk on that more, she’ll be the next one talking to you. She’s more for the Players’ Association questions that you want. But I do know that she’s been on all those phone calls, each and every day, when she’s out of training. That includes before games and everything. So I think she’ll be the better person to answer that Players’ Association question, sorry.

(note: Tori Huster joined the press conference moments later, so here’s her answer to the same question)

Tori Huster: Yeah, I think one of the things I consider ourselves lucky with is that we hired an executive director this year, in Meghann Burke, and she has been probably on the phone more than any of us, communicating with the new Executive Committee of the league, multiple times a day. With some of these things that we are demanding and asking for, for change within the league, they’re going to take a bit of time, and we want to make sure that they’re done properly. So that is why we extended the deadline, as of right now, just to make sure that everything that we’re asking for, that there is the correct process in place for those to actually, you know, make the change that we want to make, if that makes sense.

I had a question about the Black Women’s Player Collective. Today the website launched, the Adidas partnership was announced. I wanted to know how exciting that is, how that came together, but also whether they’re having any success getting in the NWSL’s ear. Is the league listening? How is the communication between the two parties right now?

TM: I know there has been communication, but I think as of right now the Black Women’s Player Collective has been focusing on ourselves, and trying to get ourselves up and running and making sure that we have strong statement, that we have a strong platform that we want to build off of. Which is why our link has come up, and also being with Adidas now, is two big steps we’re trying to make. I think that we’ve realized that the league is a bit out of sorts right now, so pushing from our side is one thing that we want to do, but we also know that we want to make sure that we have everything that we need, so that when we do go to them we’re collective as one, and we can make sure we’re asking for everything that we want at once.

As a follow-up, I noticed that your former teammate Kaiya McCullough has been involved with the BWPC, that she’s still part of this activism. I wanted to know the BWPC is approaching the idea of continuing to do that, and how you’re approaching that as an individual.

TM: I’ve still been talking with Kaiya, of course. Once again, another very brave person that’s come out this year and really kind of spearheaded everything that’s been going on. So I think her voice in all of this is still very much important to us, and we will always continue to keep her in the loop, keep getting advice, questions, anything that we want from her. So I do know that she’s still very active in everything that we do, and she’s definitely going to be someone that I will always approach with my voice too, someone that I’ve been talking to a lot recently about all this.

You were in North Carolina when the latest reporting of the abuse in the league came out, with tonight being the rescheduled game after you as players asked for those matches to be put on hold. I know it’s a difficult thing when you’re competing against another team, but both the Spirit and the Courage have been through some very specific stuff pertaining to those issues, and I was wondering if there has been any outreach between between the two teams in that regard. Or is that something that’s kind of tough to to do at this moment in time?

TH: I don’t think checking in with players across the league is hard. I think one of the things throughout this entire thing that is a positive is that we’ve been really collective in our efforts. And that only is possible because we’ve been communicating so frequently. I think the way that the Players’ Association is set up with two reps, two main reps and then an alternate rep, you know, we have our Slack channels that we communicate on, we have each other’s numbers. For me, it’s been most important just to check how people are doing overall, and I think after the news broke on that Thursday, we did take a little bit of the weekend to process. People process at different rates, and checking on each other as that Monday rolled around was super important for us, just to see where everybody was at, because we had games that following Wednesday. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to really get our thoughts behind us, but I think we managed because we were checking on each other so frequently in that period of time.

Maybe this predates tonight, but I was wondering when the conversation about the pregame moment tonight started, and how did it it started? How do you think it went?

TH: Yeah, it’s similar to I think the question I just answered. We have open lines of communication right now, and honestly, I think the first game that we had back and we chose to do the 6th minute, and I was super powerful to stop in the middle of the game. But as the season goes, we want to still have that show of solidarity, obviously, but to also disrupt and sit there in the middle of a game and then pick back up, it’s tough. I think you saw overseas, we had lots of support from some of the English teams. That was very touching, very moving for us, and it also worked out well, I think some of them started their game that way. So some of the conversations for this week started, I think, a couple of days ago, just to make sure we are all on the same page, and each team that’s playing each other is communicating back and forth.

You’ve talked a lot about the conversations that you’ve had in the days between games over these past couple of weeks. Can you put into perspective, just what kind of an effort it is to add that on top of what’s already a demanding season and a few weeks here for the team?

TH: Honestly, it’s super demanding. This late in the season as well, we postpone that match and threw in an extra mid-week game. Four games in 12 days, and we’re mentally having to process things that have been happening for so long but that reached a breaking point, and an amazing investigative article by Meg. I’m not sure that I could have ever imagined something like this in my career before. It is hard. Even with our #NoMoreSideHusltes campaign, we are able to multitask. A lot of us have other jobs. But I think if you factor in some of this, just, the processing, the fact that this is super draining for us, and we’re expected to go out on the field and perform at a high level, at a professional soccer level. I don’t think we should have to do that. But we are doing it. And I think for us specifically, we’ve had two wins in the last games. And is that empowering us? Maybe. But I think that there’s going to ultimately be an accumulative effect across the league. And I’m hoping through this, we stay physically healthy, as as much as mentally.

Seeing the championship being moved, this was something that all the players were very clear about in September, and to now finally get that progress is a decision being made now, which I think signals a willingness to listen in a way, is that a positive step moving forward from the NWSL and it’s relationship with the NWSLPA?

TM: Yeah, I think it’s positive. I think it comes at an unprecedented time where our voices need to be heard. So, I think it is a step in the right direction. But I also think it’s only one of the first steps that needs to be taken, with everything that’s going on. It’s a very small win for us in many ways, but also, you know, it’s nice to be heard. It’s nice for our voices to be heard. But yeah, I think with all the work that the PA is doing in the background, it’s just one of many things that we have on our list that we want taken care of.

TH: I think it also is, just talking about performance-wise, a 9am game, I’m not sure that Is professional on any standard. I’m not sure any men’s league across the globe, universe, would ever be expected to do that, and I don’t think that we should. Portland has a great atmosphere. They have a great environment there, a great stadium. But I think this is an opportunity for Louisville to show us what they got, and for fans to show up in this moment and really show out on CBS and show them how important women’s soccer is.

Andi Sullivan update

Spirit supporters’ hearts may have dropped when it was announced that star midfielder Andi Sullivan was not available for this game. In Washington’s last match, a 3-0 win over Louisville, Sullivan went down with a left knee problem and was substituted in the 62nd minute. After the match, interim manager Kris Ward stated that it was a minor injury and that she would be fine, so it was a little alarming to see her not in uniform at all.

After this win, Ward noted that there was still some lingering pain, though there was no structural damage. “She just tweaked a little muscle in there,” said Ward. “It’s not a serious thing...she’ll meet us in Seattle tomorrow.”

Keeping Sullivan out and still picking up three points away at North Carolina is huge for the Spirit’s playoff hopes, especially in light of the six points dropped due to forfeits caused by what the league referred to as ”breaches of the league’s medical protocols.”

If you’re into the reading of tea leaves and such, one positive sign is that Sullivan was named in the latest USWNT squad for two matches against South Korea, which will take place October 21 and 26. — André Carlisle

REEEEEEEEEEEEEEMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIX

If you’ve looked at the NWSL table recently, and took the additional step of trying to calculate possible permutations, we hope your recovery is going well. This has been an incredible end to the regular season and fight for the playoffs, and trying to predict things can dry out and snap a brain in two like it was made of Saltines.

Many teams are in between ‘control your own destiny’ and ‘LOSING BANISHES YOU TO A COLD AND EMPTY ABYSS’, and the Spirit and their Wednesday opponent were among them. The Spirit winning (and Houston losing) catapulted them all the way up to third in the league, while North Carolina fell to the final playoff spot, and within range of Gotham (who still have a game in hand on just about everyone).

All in all it was a brilliant — and much needed — night for the Spirit. Julia Roddar’s first NWSL goal secured three points, and with the added bonus of a win over a rival that could help if a tiebreaker were to come into play between the two. At this stage in the season, getting three points however you can get them, is all that matters.

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s fun to look at the how, because this was very much a win that reversed a common trend of early season Spirit matches.

Even though the points were secured, Ward had some frustration with how the match began, and the Spirit’s struggles to get out of their own half and connect in midfield in any substantive way. Though the Spirit got the win, they were out-possessed and out-passed, allowed more shots and shots on target, and got an assist from the crossbar. This isn’t to say the Spirit were poor on the night — North Carolina’s box midfield is a struggle to play against and Sullivan was out of the match — but Aubrey Bledsoe was immense on the night, as was Trinity Rodman, who provided a consistent outlet from some of North Carolina’s pressure.

These are the types of matches the Spirit have often been on the other end of results-wise, where they control the match, dominate shot statistics, yet get foiled due to a combination of errant finishing, great goalkeeping, and a stubborn post and/or bar. The Spirit couldn’t have timed this remix better, and now certainly control much their own playoff destiny with just two matches to go. — AC

A serious thought on a silly thought

The Spirit celebrated their win with a post-game trip to the venerable Southern fast food institution known as Cookout:

This is the first Spirit-related tweet of mine to get this kind of attention in ages where all that’s going on is simply people having fun with some aspect of the Washington Spirit. They won a big game, players got milkshakes and corn dogs, and everyone replying or quote-tweeting this was having a good time with it.

Things are so serious with the Spirit, and with NWSL. There is an ongoing ownership problem, there are incredibly important things that have to be changed with the league itself and at seemingly every club. Covering these games lately, and giving them the care that they deserve, has been a heavy experience. I’m sure for fans it’s been the same thing, and for players, I can’t even imagine.

So as I scrolled through the Instagram stories and my own mentions about the Spirit getting some fast food they can’t get anywhere near home, it hit me that there’s still joy to be found. The Spirit won in a place they’ve never ever won before. Julia Roddar got her first goal just as it felt like the Courage might come back. Washington won without Andi Sullivan, they moved up into 3rd place.

That’s good! You’re allowed to enjoy that, just as the players clearly did. Moreover, it’s important that they (and you) enjoy it. It’s just a moment, but when times are tough, these little moments are that much more worth savoring.

Things are still very serious right now, and this doesn’t change that. It doesn’t resolve the ownership issue, it doesn’t change the standard of treatment players get around NWSL. After all the things that have required (and still do require) true seriousness and deep consideration on the part of everyone league-wide, it was just awfully nice to have a little joy, and an Oreo milkshake if you can track one down. — Jason Anderson