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Preseason Roundup: NWSL finish weekend undefeated

2017-04-01 Spirit v Duke-56-X3

It was another busy weekend in the NWSL preseason, with eight teams playing matches on Saturday. Most of the teams played in contests against collegiate teams while the final round of the Thorns Spring Invitational tournament concluded. Several NWSL newcomers got another chance to make a case for themselves while many international players, including those for the U.S. and Canada, were away on national team duty ahead of next week’s friendlies.

The Boston Breakers, who were scheduled to take on the UConn Huskies, had to cancel their match after a winter storm brought snow and ice to the area the night before. Here’s a quick recap of Saturday’s preseason competition that did take place.

Orlando Pride 3, Florida State 0

Highlights courtesy of Orlando Pride

Despite not getting on the scoresheet for herself, defender Toni Pressley did tally two assists in the Orlando Pride’s 3-0 win over her alma mater, Florida State. The win was the Pride’s fourth consecutive win in as many matches this preseason and the first preseason match in which head coach Tom Sermanni did not roll out a different second-half lineup.

“I was pleased by the performance today. [FSU] put us under a bit of pressure and gave us a slightly different challenge than the games we’ve had so far,” Sermanni said.  “I think we saw improvement today in our general match fitness. A little bit of improvement today on our ball movement, which was better than it’s been, and we put players in there for longer today than we had been. We’re starting to see players getting close to that match fitness level that we require.”

The Seminoles’ pressure kept the Pride off the board for most of the first half, but that all changed in the 35th minute when Jasmyne Spencer collected a cross from Pressley inside the box before putting it past FSU’s keeper. Draftee Danica Evans scored the Pride’s second goal 10 minutes later, heading in Kristen Edmond’s cross just before the first-half whistle.

Pressley got her second assist of the day in the 71st minute, playing the ball through the Seminole defense for Chioma Ubogagu, who was able to run on the ball and put it past the goalkeeper for the last goal of the match.

The Pride wrap up the 2017 in a closed-door match against the U.S. U-23 women’s national team on Friday, April 7.

Orlando Lineup: Aubrey Bledsoe (Kopale 80’); Camila (Jamia Fields 63’), Laura Alleway (Cami Levin 73’), Alanna Kennedy (Dani Weatherholt 63’), Toni Pressley; Nickolette Driesse (Maddy Evans 46’), Kristen Edmonds, Monica (Jordan O’Brien 73’); Chioma Ubogagu (Christina Burkenroad 73’), Danica Evans (Sarah Hagen 63’), Jasmyne Spencer (Carol Rodrigues 73’)

North Carolina Courage 3, Wake Forest 1

The North Carolina Courage found its second win of its inaugural preseason after defeating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 3-1 on Saturday. Paul Riley’s side seemed to struggle against the collegiate team a bit, going into the second half trailing, 0-1.

However, the Courage would score three unanswered goals in the second half to secure the win. Brazilian international Debinha, originally signed by the now-defunct Western New York Flash in January, leveled the score early in the second half. Then Jessica McDonald, who scored a brace in the Courage’s 3-0 win over Tennessee last weekend, scored the go-ahead goal, out-jumping the competition to head in a corner kick.

The Courage’s other Brazilian international off-season acquisition, Rosana, scored her first goal of the preseason to close out scoring for the day. Courtney Niemiec sent in a cross from the left corner and found an unmarked Rosana, allowing the midfielder to easily get her head on the ball for the final score in the contest.

The Courage have a quick turnaround in preseason action, next taking on the Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday, April 5 at WakeMed Soccer Park.

FC Kansas City 2, Nebraska 1

Nebraska may have gotten on the board first, but a brace from Shea Groom saw FC Kansas City remain undefeated in 2017 preseason action. Groom played in the front three with Sydney Leroux, and the two created a number of opportunities for FCKC throughout the day, helping the Blues out shoot Nebraska 15-6.

“It was great preparation for us,” said head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the match. “Nebraska was organized and quick…we were forced to figure out a way and we were forced to play quick, to be clinical, to be technical on every touch and when we were not, we got punished. That’s how we got scored on.”

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Faith Carter scored the opening goal for the Cornhuskers in the 28th minute, but it would take the Blues less than 10 minutes to even the score. From over 30 yards out, Alexa Newfield chipped the ball over Nebraska’s back line, where Groom ran onto it, dribbled past the goalkeeper and put FCKC on the board. Groom completed her brace and scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute after converting a penalty kick awarded for a handball in the box.

FCKC concludes its 2017 preseason schedule on Monday, April 10 against the Kansas Jayhawks.

FCKC First-Half Lineup: Nicole Barnhart; Christina Gibbons, Brianne Reed, Sydney Miramontez, Brittany Taylor; Alexa Newfield, Lo’eau LaBonta, Katie Bowen; Sydney Leroux, Maegan Kelly, Shea Groom

FCKC Second-Half Lineup: Nicole Barnhart; Christina Gibbons, Brianne Reed (Patterson 76’), Sydney Miramontez, Brittany Taylor (Rashida Beal 62’); Alexa Newfield (Stiever 62’), Erika Tymrak, Katie Bowen; Sydney Leroux, Caroline Flynn, Shea Groom

Sky Blue FC 1, UNC 0

An early first-half goal by 2016 NWSL Rookie of the Year Raquel Rodriguez was the difference maker in Sky Blue’s contest against NCAA powerhouse North Carolina. Sky Blue faced a different kind of test from other teams, as they followed NWSL single-substitution rules while Anson Dorrance’s side followed open substitution rules. That meant the pros faced a collegiate side that had more rest and fresher legs at the end of the contest.

With Kelley O’Hara being gone to USWNT camp, head coach Christy Holly switched from the 4-3-3 formation used in last weekend’s win against St. John’s University to a 4-5-1 with Maya Hayes as the lone striker up top.

Although Hayes would not find her way onto the scoresheet for the second consecutive week, she did record the assist on Rodriguez’s goal. Leah Galton generated the goal-scoring play,  using her speed to move the ball down the left flank before serving it into the box. Hayes briefly collected the ball before tapping it over to Rodriguez at the top of the 18, and Rodriguez one-touched a rocket into the side netting to score her first goal of the 2017 preseason.

After much strong back-and-forth between the two sides, Sky Blue was gifted another scoring opportunity in the 86th minute when Madison Tiernan, taken by Holly in the third round of the 2017 NWSL draft, was taken down in the box. Sam Kerr, who joined the team for training earlier in the week, stepped to the spot to take the resulting penalty kick. Tar Heel goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak made a diving one-handed save of Kerr’s shot, preventing the Australian international from scoring the insurance goal.

“It was fantastic to get in this game against UNC today,” Holly said. “Under the guidance of Anson Dorrance, they have a very good technical and tactical understanding of the game, and they presented us with a number of challenges. Playing this match serves as great preparation for our NWSL season.”

Sky Blue continues its preseason with an April 4 closed-door match against the Boston Breakers. They play their 2017 preseason finale on Sunday, April 9 against Penn State.

Sky Blue FC Lineup: Caroline Casey; Kayla Mills, Christie Rampone (Domi Richardson 69’), Mandy Freeman, Erica Skroski (Erin Simon 62’); Sarah Killion (Catrina Atanda 70’), Raquel Rodriguez (Nikki Stanton 70’), Daphne Corboz (Danielle Schulmann 69’), Taylor Lytle (Madison Tiernan 62’), Leah Galton (Madison Meehan 70’), Maya Hayes (Sam Kerr 55’)

Washington Spirit 4, Duke 3

2017-04-01 Spirit v Duke-56-X3

(photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Before Saturday’s contest against Duke, the Spirit hadn’t allowed any goals in the preseason. That quickly changed as the Blue Devils scored three goals in the first half to take a 3-2 lead into the locker room. Washington, however, scored two unanswered goals in the second half to earn the 4-3 victory.

Duke definitely challenged the Spirit more on both sides of the ball than its two previous preseason opponents did. The sides split possession about equally with very few quality chances generated by either in the first 20 minutes of play.

Washington forward Katie Stengel opened scoring in the 23rd minute after Arielle Ship found her on the left side and Stengel’s far post shot went beyond the reach of Blue Devils keeper Brooke Heinsohn.

Duke nearly equalized three minutes later after Olivia Erlbeck evaded a couple of Spirit defenders. Estelle Johnson, who wore the captain’s armband in Shelina Zadorsky’s absence, make a last second clear to keep the chance from materializing.

The Spirit would have a couple of nervy moments in the first half due in part to changing the formation from the 3-5-2 they used in the previous preseason matches to the 4-4-3 that the team utilized in all but one contest last year as well as rotating personnel.

Postgame head coach Jim Gabarra said he was thankful for the lessons the game gave his side in the first half.

“ I think it was really in the first half disappointing because they didn’t really play the way we had trained,” he said. “Some of it was due to the newness of the system, the newness of the players and having a large number of those players that need to learn but they need to go through this exercise so it’s good that we didn’t make those mistakes and have those learnings without really getting punished for it so. You know you make mistakes in this league and you’re going to give up goals.”

A minute after Johnson denied the Blue Devils, however, Imani Dorsey punched home a second chance opportunity to tie the game a 1-1.

In the 37th minute, rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard gave the Spirit back the lead when her shot from the top of the box found the back of the net.

The Spirit’s lead would be short lived however as Duke would score twice in the next seven minutes. In the 41st minute, forward Kayla McCoy, who missed much of the 2016 campaign with an achilles injury, scored off a header just seconds after coming into the match. Dorsey struck again in the 44th minute with a long distance shot for Duke’s third goal.

Notably, both McCoy and Dorsey are familiar to the Spirit organization as both players suited up for the Spirit Reserves side last summer along with two of their other Duke teammates.

Washington dominated much more of the possession in the second half after subbing Tori Huster and Joanna Lohman into the game for Dougherty Howard and Line Sigvardsen Jensen. Huster especially, helped the Spirit control the tempo of the game.

In the 52nd minute, the Spirit knotted the game at three when Lohman found Cheyna Williams in the middle of the box.  Williams then sent a low driven shot into the right corner of the goal.

Stengel also rounded out the scoring in the 59th minute when a ball that Franny Ordega attempted to shoot hit off a Duke defender and the Wake Forest product fired a shot from just outside the box.

Once again, the young talent the Spirit brought showed some promise. Ship who assisted Stengel’s first goal was dangerous in stretches. Dougherty Howard maintained possession well in her 45 minutes of play.  In addition to scoring the game’s second goal, the Florida product also played a fantastic through ball despite pressure to Stengel. Stengel was unable to capitalize however, due to pressure. Undrafted roster invitee Crystal Thomas proved too much for Duke’s left back to handle several times after she entered the game in the 70 minute.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of this weekend’s contest is just how important Huster is to the team. Her contributions aren’t the type you immediately notice while on the pitch but her absence in the first half was definitely noticeable.

The Spirit close out the 2017 preseason on Saturday, April 8 against Virginia.

Washington Spirit Lineup: 2- Arielle Ship (40- Gloria Douglas 81’), 5-Whitney Church, 6-Kassey Kallman, 7-Line Sigvardsen Jensen (23- Tori Huster, 46’), 12-Katie Stengel (37-Crystal Thomas 70’), 16-Cameron Castleberry (32- Lauren Lazo 77’), 19-Kristie Mewis (9- Havana Solaun 65’), 20-Cheyna Williams, 21-DiDi Haracic, 24-Estelle Johnson, 29-Meggie Dougherty Howard (15- Joanna Lohman 46’)

Duke University Lineup: 2-Chelsea Burns (4-Ashton Miller 60’ (12-Kayla McCoy 83’)), 3-Imani Dorsey, 4-Ashton Miller (23-Emma Carlson 46’ (14- Mary Love Taylor 83’)), 9-Kat McDonald (21- Anna Munro 41’ (9- Kat McDonald 46’ (21- Anna Munro 77’))), 11-Olivia Erlbeck (12-Kayla McCoy 37’ (11- Olivia Erlbeck 46’ (15- Emily Wilson 87’))), 17- Ella Stevens, 19- Schuyler DeBree, 20- Mia Gyau, 22-Malinda Allen, 24- Morgan Reid, 26- Brooke Heinsohn

Chicago Red Stars 0, U.S. U-23 WNT 0

The senior national team training this weekend affected NWSL and U-23 rosters alike for the final day of Portland’s preseason tournament.  The first match of the day’s double-headers saw Chicago Red Stars draw 0-0 against the U.S. U-23 women’s national team.

The NWSL side once again tested Taylor Comeau as an outside back and Morgan Proffitt in the midfield (who was replaced by Mary Luba at half).  Coach Rory Dames noted the learning curve that Comeau faces while being tested with the defensive position.  On Proffitt, Dames stated, “[This week] was more about putting her in and seeing what she’s comfortable with.” This sentiment aligns with Proffitt’s positional changes—playing at 6, 8 and 10 spots—throughout the preseason games.

On the U-23 side of the match, Savannah McCaskill, Mallory Eubanks and Ashley Sanchez contributed to the offensive pressure. Sophia Smith, who was a presence in the Wednesday match against the Thorns, was called into senior camp earlier in the week.

The Chicago Red Stars will next take on Notre Dame on Thursday, April 6 in their preseason finale, while the U-23’s will travel to Orlando to take on the Pride on Friday, April 7.

Chicago Lineup: Michele Dalton; Arin Gilliland, Samantha Johnson, Sarah Gorden, Taylor Comeau; Morgan Proffitt (Mary Luba 46′), Danielle Colaprico, Vanessa DiBernardo (C), Alyssa Mautz (Brittany Ratcliffe 46′); Cara Walls (Simone Kolander 46′), Stephanie McCaffrey (Summer Green 75′)

U.S. U-23 WNT Lineup: Bella Geist (Casey Murphy 65′); Alanna Cook, Kaleigh Riehl, Gabrielle Seiler, Alexis Warner; Tierna Davidson, Brianna Pinto, Sandra Yu, Mallory Eubanks, Ashley Sanchez, Savannah McCaskill (C)

Portland Thorns 1, Houston Dash 1

The Portland Thorns took on the Houston Dash in the second of the April 1 doubleheaders.  The intensity of the match was unaffected by its “preseason” status and altered rosters.  The final score was 1-1.

Mallory Weber, Kelli Hubly, and Ashley Herndon contributed to a threatening Thorns attack, but Mana Shim would have the sole goal for the home team.

The Dash struggled to maintain effective possession in the face of Portland’s pressure, but equalized in the second half. The tying goal came from Rachel Daly, who put a screaming shot from the outside the 18 into the back of the net.

Going forward Dash Coach Randy Waldrum referenced taking the attack to the next level as well as continuing work on “defensive consistency as a team.” Defensive work was a focal point coming into the tournament.

The match is the final contest in Portland’s preseason, whereas the Dash take on Texas A&M on Thursday, April 6.

Portland Lineup: Britt Eckerstrom; Meghan Cox, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Kendall Johnson (Ellie Boon 62′); Mana Shim, Kelli Hubly, Celeste Boureille, Ashley Herndon (Meg Morris 75′); Nadia Nadim (Fitzgerald 66′), Mallory Weber

Houston Lineup: Lydia Williams; Poliana (Janine Van Wyk 90′), Cari Roccaro, Cami Privett, Bruna Benites; Amber Brooks ©, Andressa (Caity Heap 90′), Denise O’Sullivan; Stephanie Ochs, Rachel Daly, Melissa Henderson (Claire Falknor 69′)

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