BOYDS, Md. — Washington survived a shaky start to beat the defending NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels 2-0 on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Caroline Miller and Tiffany McCarty each scored for the Spirit.
The victory came despite a rough start, Washington head coach Mike Jorden said,
“They came out and the first fifteen minutes really took it to us,” he said. “We kind of battled through it and got the goal. I thought as the game went on we played better.”
Kealia Ohai and the Tar Heels put the Spirit backline under pressure on numerous occasions in the early minutes of the game. North Carolina had the better of possession but a goal by Miller gave the Spirit the 1-0 advantage in the 28th minute.
About twenty minutes into the game, the Spirit settled in and started winning more possession. A few minutes later, the Spirit took the lead off Miller’s goal. McCarty ran up the left flank with the ball, creating space for Miller. McCarty then sent the ball to Miller. Her first attempt was deflected, but the deflection fell to Miller, whose second shot found the back of the net.
Washington’s defensive woes were expected. National team call-ups and and a slight injury to Kika Toulouse forced the Spirit to use Tori Huster and Casey Berrier as center backs. Huster is generally a midfielder and Berrier joined the Spirit late this week after being waived by FC Kansas City.
Just before half, the Tar Heels nearly leveled the score off a free kick. The kick was taken from about 40 yards out. The ball came and was headed towards goal. The shot went just wide of goal and the Spirit took the 1-0 advantage into halftime.
In the 47th minute, the Spirit doubled their lead over North Carolina. McCarty received a pass and outran the Tar Heel defenders, then tapped the ball passed the Tar Heels goalkeeper, Bryane “Bre” Heaberlin.
North Carolina continued to place their high pressure style and their offense created some chances. Ultimately, the Tar Heels were unable to find the back of the net and the game ended 2-0 in favor of the Spirit.
After the game North Carolina Head Coach Anson Dorrance said he was “very happy” with his team’s performance adding that, “the game was played in their (the Spirit’s) end and I thought my midfield did a good job against their midfield.”
Despite shaky play from the Spirit backline at times, the team recorded its third shutout in as many preseason games. Stingy defensive play will be vital for the Spirit’s chances this season as their young forwards continue to the transition from college to the professional league.
The Spirit’s young front runners took an important step forward Saturday. Miller and McCarty recorded their first goals as members of the Washington Spirit squad.
“Tiffany McCarty really created both of those chances and I think it shows hard work from everyone from front runners to midfielders to defenders to create chances,”Jorden said. “(These goals) will build our confidence.”
The team now has two more preseason matches to solidify itself and prepare for the season opener against the Boston Breakers. Washington will face Maryland at Ludwig Field on Wednesday.