Gordon: 3 things from wild Spirit-Sky Blue matchup

Jennifer Gordon May 8, 2017 17
Francisca Ordega finished into the empty net after Kailen Sheridan vacated it for a challenge that didn't quite pan out. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Francisca Ordega finished into the empty net after Kailen Sheridan vacated it for a challenge that didn’t quite pan out. (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

On Saturday in Maryland, the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue combined for 7 goals in one of the most wide open matches in NWSL history. Here’s a look at a few of the key takeaways from the contest.

Francisca Ordega

After scoring just one goal in the first three games on the season, few would have predicted the Spirit tallying four times in Saturday night’s contest even against a young backline.  At the center of Washington’s scoring bonanza was Francisca Ordega who played a role in all four goals. The Nigerian international’s performance was like a caffeine jolt for the slumping side.

The forward really displayed her whole toolkit, not only punishing defenders with her speed on her two goals and on the first of which, withstanding a healthy dose of physicality before finding the back of the net. Equally impressive was the through ball she sent to Havana Solaun to set up the Spirit’s third goal. On the other side of the ball, Ordega tracked back and defended well against one of the league’s most pacey attacks.

“To see her individual effort on at least two of the goals was pretty awesome and you could see that she was a big threat to them and they were having troubles dealing with her strength and her speed,” Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe said about the forward’s performance. “You know it’s fun to see a player have those games and you know it doesn’t happen all the time. To see a player just kind of on their game and just feeling it is really fun to watch.”

While questions regarding Ordega’s stamina have often surfaced, her workrate Saturday showed that she’s capable of producing even when logging more minutes. Perhaps the more central question is whether Ordega can produce more consistently or at least attract enough attention to open the door for her teammates.

Inexperience of the Sky Blue Backline Shows

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”  That quote is usually attributed to C.S. Lewis. Whether he actually said it or not, is a up for debate, but how much Sky Blue’s inexperience at the back showed last weekend is not.

In Week 3, the with a backline full of rookies or second year players along with a rookie keeper managed a clean sheet against Kansas City, a team, much like Washington, that’s struggling to manufacture goals. This past weekend, however, Sky Blue got punished for nearly every mistake they made at the back including a bad back pass and a poor decision to come out of the box by Kailen Sheridan. Washington managed just four shots on target, but put away three of those.

Post game, Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly attributed every goal allowed to a fundamental soccer mistake.

“You can’t concede four goals and play soccer, so it’s a big learning curve,” head coach Christy Holly said of his team’s defensive performance. “They’re not as bad as what they showed here. Certainly, it’s a bad representation of who they are… I said to them, ‘We have two options here: the back four can look at this an opportunity to hold their head down and feel sorry for themselves or say this is a fantastic learning opportunity. Welcome to the pros.’ We got exposed.”

If there’s anyone in the league that knows about being inexperienced and learning on the job, it might be Holly, who in his first year at the helm of Sky Blue overachieved with a young team. It will be interesting to see how the Sky Blue defense responds to the weak performance.

Inverse of Previous Spirit Games

This weekend’s affair was in a lot of ways an inverse of what we’ve seen so far this season from the Spirit. Washington, especially last week, seemed to lack intensity or aggressiveness.  On Saturday, the home side withstood a couple of solid chances from the visitors in the opening minutes and then actually seem to find the tenacity it had been missing. At the end of the first half, the Spirit had not only with it’s first multiple goal effort of the season but ended up winning about 20 percent more duels than it had to prior week.

Conversely, Sky Blue lacked energy in the first half. Undoubtedly, the some of Sky Blue’s slow start is attributable to key players like Raquel Rodriguez, Christine Pearce and Daphne Corboz being unavailable. Regardless of absences, midfielder Sky Blue Sarah Killion made clear that the first half was unacceptable.

“We had a slow start but whatever 11 players start out on that field, we’re expected to show up,” she said. “ It doesn’t matter if it’s the first 45 or the last 45, everyone is expected to show up we didn’t in the first.”

In the second half, the tables turned decidedly in the visitors’ favor. Sky Blue took 10 shots in the second half to the Spirit’s two.  When asked about the Sky Blue putting his side under a lot of pressure in the second half, Gabbara said that his opponent came out with almost a desperation and his team lacked the same intensity to start the half.

While this weekend’s game was the first multi-goal effort by the Spirit, it also was the first time they’ve conceded more than once. In all honesty, it’s far from surprising that the Spirit backline allowed three goals in the match especially given Sky Blue’s speed. If there’s one positive of Washington’s defensive effort aside from Labbe’s stops at the end of the game to preserve the win, it’s the fact that a sizable number of Sky Blue’s chances came from behind the 18 yard box, which allowed Labbe to make plays.

What do the Spirit need to do to improve defensively moving forward?  

“To stay tight and deny more shots,” Labbe said when asked. “ I think that’s the biggest thing. We get the team tighter and keep preventing shots, and preventing goal scoring opportunities. That’s always the name of the game but I think we’re still giving up a little bit too much so keep working on that.”

  • Ron Rocha

    Ok. I’ve cranked up my ESP(N?) and have a prediction. Dunn has posted on twitter “People seem to forget that there are 3 sides to every story..”. I think that Pugh will agree to go to the Spirit if Dunn returns after Chelsea and she has been in contact with both. Too wild a guess???

    • guest

      Makes more sense than half of the other nonsense you read here from others with no real evidence. The Pugh camp and the rumor mill has been pretty quiet lately.

  • ted norberto

    I would like to see Pugh in a Spirit Uniform. I also think it would be best for Dunn to return to DC and reestablish order on the Spirit ship. Nobody really stood up to the organization to try to fight whatever belies within the Spirit Org., instead most just jumped ship. I would’ve liked for the vets to try to change the atmosphere so young talented future players like Pugh will be wanting to play for the Spirit.

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    • DNG

      It’s the owners job to get his house in order not the players. Although it seems as if some of the current players are trying to do that anyway.

      • mockmook

        Yes, yes, he did the unforgivable of standing up to Rapinoe — time for everyone to get over it.

        • DNG

          Not unforgivable just stupid. Compounded by breaking up the team at the end of the year. Players seem to be getting on with it and that’s fine. I’m sure there are players not in the league who would love the chance to play for the Spirit. Pugh evidently isn’t one of those players and my point was more that Pugh shouldn’t feel any obligation to help the Spirit right the ship. She should do what she thinks is right for her career.

          • mockmook

            “Not unforgivable just stupid.”

            Seemed pretty smart to me.

            Left Rapinoe throwing a tantrum like the 2 year old she has become.

          • guest

            If she was really devoted to the cause and had any real conviction she’d still be taking a knee and getting her “message” out. Hard to believe that anyone actually believed she sincerely gives a crap about anything other than the limelight and her merchandise sales. Look at her social media. She’s not devoting any of those resources to the cause. She’s a joke.

          • HOFCToDi

            It’s you who is stupid.

            U.S. Soccer’s new policy requires players ‘stand respectfully’ during national anthems

            http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/us-soccer-national-anthem-policy-usmnt-uswnt-030417

          • Guest

            Why is it stupid? Who is Rapinoe to go to other people’s stadiums and do something so obnoxious? What was so important last season that Rapinoe had to make that statement? Why isn’t it important enough to continue? The Reign play the Spirit this weekend, it would be a perfect game to grab the spotlight and make us listen to her message once again. Does anyone know what her message was?

      • Guest

        What makes you think it’s not in order? The Twitter-sphere? The “journalists” who are wrong more than they are right and speculate based on the speculations of others. Gabarra has said on multiple occasions that a couple of the veterans didn’t want to accept the role he saw them in and asked to be traded. He clearly wants to build a more high-paced, high press, possession style. You could see it in the second half of last year in spurts. With the team you saw this weekend and a couple of key pieces the Spirit can compete with anyone in the league. Pugh would be a perfect fit for Gabarra’s plan.

    • guest

      maybe the vets were the problem. krieger specifically.

    • Guest

      What makes you think that Gabarra hasn’t established order? What he expects, how he wants to play, etc. is probably why there was turnover. It’s not unusual to have players not want to change with a new coach. It seems that order has been established. What makes you think a 23-24 year old Crystal Dunn comes back and re-establishes order?

  • Anton

    Quite making excuses for Sky Blue! Washington has 4 starters out with injuries!
    Second, Jim Gabarra noted plenty times what happened last year at the end of the season. All I will say is that things don’t seem to match up to all the hate the press has written about Washington. This is a new year and the Washington Spirit Ladies have decided to move on and put the past behind them. Grown Up-Mature Attitude, Love for one another and leaving it on the field…..everyday……every game will grab that success that they deserve! Go Ladies Go Spirit! WIN!

    • Guest

      Things will never match what you see in the press, on twitter, in equalizer articles because the majority of it is speculation.

  • Ron Rocha

    1/2 of prediction complete. Standby for part 2.