Three Things: Washington Spirit vs North Carolina Courage

Jennifer Gordon April 16, 2017 17
Debinha and Cheyna Williams compete in the Courage's 1-0 win over the Spirit. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Debinha and Cheyna Williams compete in the Courage’s 1-0 win over the Spirit. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

En-Couraged by Debinha

There’s no doubt that when it comes to internationals in the NWSL, it’s been hit or miss. While it’s certainly too early to tell  if she’ll be a hit, North Carolina fans should be excited by Debinha’s first outing in the NWSL. The creative player cut in between Spirit players almost at will and generated several dangerous opportunities in the second half. If she had shot an opportunity she created by getting in between two Spirit defenders, she might have scored in her debut.

Debinha is a stark departure from the type of player the team formerly known as the Flash are custom to employing. This team’s trademarks are its brute force and athleticism. The Brazilian showed yesterday that she could be the piece that helps the now North Carolina Courage add another layer, especially with Sam Mewis sitting right behind her.

The Courage already have one of the deadliest one-two punches in the NWSL in Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald, who combined for 21 regular-season goals last year. If Debinah is able to consistently add some flare to the middle of the park?

“It makes it tough on the opponent because they never know what we are going to do,” McCall Zerboni, who scored the game’s only goal, said about her new teammate. “We can play through the middle, go out wide, and she just kind of adds that caliber to us where we’re really dynamic.”

Labbe: Star of the Game

It’s never a good sign when a keeper notches several more full-extension saves than the rest of the team manages shots on goal at the other end. Alas, Stephanie Labbe’s outstanding performance in goal for the Spirit was the bright spot in an otherwise forgettable performance for the home side in yesterday’s season opener.

After the game, Labbe was jokingly asked if she liked working this hard. “Every once in awhile,” she replied with a bit of laugh. Whether the Spirit’s defense will be subject to the kind shelling it took yesterday on a weekly basis remains to be seen, especially since they faced the most prolific offense of a season ago. Nonetheless, Labbe will need to consistently perform well to keep Washington in games as this offense isn’t going to generate many multi-goal performances.

{RELATED: Courage debut with 1-0 win in Washington | Reign, Sky Blue exchange penalties in draw}

It’s an intriguing situation for the Spirit as head coach Jim Gabarra marooned Labbe on the bench upon her return from the Olympics in favor of Kelsey Wys. Can a player spurned become the savior?

The Past Comes A Knockin’

“We’ve had four weeks together and that’s plenty of time to get things sorted out,” Spirit midfielder Tori Huster said postgame when asked if the transition in personnel played into the team’s performance. “I’m really done talking about last year. I think we’re trying to be positive and forward, and next week will hopefully be better.”

It’s clear that Washington is sick of discussing last season. It’s understandable, but the reality is the narrative surrounding the team will continue to be the long list of departures and missteps by the front office until/unless the players change themselves on the field. It’s a hard task to be sure, especially when the team can’t seem to shake losing starters to injuries early in games. In some ways the last several games played by the Spirit make the team appear to be stuck in some kind of nightmare Groundhog Day scenario.

Gabarra was blunt about his team’s performance. “We need to be able to move the ball around quickly and efficiently. There was no efficiency whatsoever.”

If you want to move forward, however, it’s probably good that neither the team nor its coach allowed the injuries or the off-season transition to be excuses for the performance yesterday. The players and staff know no matter who’s on the field, the passing and movement has to be better.

It wasn’t just for the home team that the past was present. While the Courage celebrated its first goal in franchise history, members of the WNY Flashers supporters group sat in the stands. The “newness” of the Courage is debatable, but the sting of how abrupt the WNY Flash departure was to fans was not.

Members of the Courage thanked them for the support, and fans offered up some mementos. It was probably the closest thing to closure about the abrupt sale and uprooting either group will get. It’s definitely a hard balance to strike, respecting the past while building a new future.

Cary, NC is a much better market for women’s soccer and better for the league as a whole. No matter how hard the Courage try to hit the reset button, however, the Flash will always be a part of its history.

  • Steglitz49

    The only remarkable take-home from this match was the poor attendance. Let’s hope that it was a freak of Easter.

    • dw

      Tougher sell than ever with no allocated US players. If the League isn’t supporting the market, I don’t see how it’s incumbent upon the market to support the league.

      • Bruce

        Only 2,400 for a home opener of new franchise is truly worrying.

        I never have understood, however, why anyone expects so much from a Cary-based team, The Railhawks only averaged 4,800 last season in the same stadium.

        Everyone seemed to assume that all of the arguments against putting a franchise in NC would magically disappear after Malik purchased the club.

        • dw

          Unless I am mistaken, Spirit were at home.

          • Bruce

            You are correct. Lesson to me not to post on three hours sleep.

        • JL

          That game was in Washington. North Carolina’s home opener is next week.

          • Bruce

            Sorry. Late night and early morning got my wires crossed.

      • Terry Lash

        The reality of no allocated players is the fault of the coach and Spirit management, not the league or US Soccer. The Spirit are in trouble through their own crazy decisions, starting with the (re)hiring of Gabarra. Swift action is needed to save the team, in my opinion. The fan base misses the players, local and others, who were let go. Near term prospects are not good.

        • mockmook

          “Let go” or perhaps “self ejected”

        • dw

          Mostly untrue. USSF allocates the players and ergo subsidizes the league. Since day one, they have never cared to do so in a fair manner, and instead have taken to doing so in an even more unfair manner. Nothing to do with Spirit here, except that WNT players don’t want to play there and they make all the decisions, as always.

        • john

          I’d say negativity and not moving on are the biggest threats to the Spirit’s season. If Lohman is out that’s a big loss, but this group can compete. It’s a typical Spirit squad that needs to gain confidence in itself.
          I am starting to question a preseason solely against college teams. Although, they draw well, I’m not convinced it is good preparation. There were several nonchalant passes that seemed to indicate no one was ready for the higher intensity. Furthermore, I had the thought watching Thomas make good runs and take players on confidently that “why shouldn’t she- she’s been doing it for 4 years.” It forces the coaches to evaluate if a player is ready for NWSL based primarily on what happens in practice.

    • disqus_hj8dHnhlYK

      I doubt that the game being the day before Easter had something to do with this when on the opposite side of the country Portland had their highest attendance for a home opener and one of their highest attended games ever.

      • mockmook

        Different market — different kind of crowd.

        Shield celebration was also likely a factor.

    • Rdalford

      poor attendance
      Saturday mid afternoon on Easter weekend that also kicked off school spring break week for some Washington area schools was one factor in poor attendance. Crowd was smaller and many of the various youth teams were not in attendance and for better or worst the Washington crowd remains heavily connected to youth soccer. the NWSL demonstrated a couple of years back that scheduling games on Easter weekend and/or at the start/end of school vacation week will negatively impact attendance. Washington Spirit were also late (due I think to change to new/different ticketing system) to even start renewal/selling season tickets and the ticket prices went up – plus all the off-season player transitions etc. However, within the crowd on Saturday there were still a number of multi-year season ticket holders and the ones we spoke with were confident the normal size crowds would return.

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    • guest

      Let’s not get our knickers all in a bunch over attendance at the ‘Plex, attendance was low everywhere! My theory: fans we’re stuck at home trying to get their chromecasts to work so they could watch the “free” stream go90 was so generous to provide.

  • john

    Can anyone explain the league’s policy concerning coach suspensions? Riley was in the stands watching the game and spoke with one of his assistants at halftime. Suspension seems like a farcical term – inconvenienced maybe? When I coached if you were suspended and even drove past the field you were in more trouble. Hopefully, someone can help me out.