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Spirit hitting stride after mental makeover

Washington Spirit coach Mark Parsons has seen his team turn things around since ripping into his players' season-opening performance. (Copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

It’s been a little less than two months since since Washington Spirit coach Mark Parsons called his team’s mentality unacceptable following a 3-1 defeat to the visiting Western New York Flash. Fast-forward and there now is little reason to question the Spirit’s mentality.

“The moans and groans that you heard from me (following the game) was from our staff, it was from our players. We all felt that. It was a comment together. It wasn’t me at the players, it was all of us saying we’re better than this, “ Parsons said Friday about his comments after that April 13 season-opening loss.

Following that match the Spirit have shown they can do better. Much like the opener against the Flash, the Spirit in the last few weeks of NWSL play have found themselves on the wrong side of a scoreline, but unlike that first game, the team hasn’t hung their heads but rather battled backed in impressive fashion. Washington has now secured points in the last five matches, a club record.

“We’re under no false impressions. We don’t have the Seattle, Kansas, Western New York, Portland rosters,” Parsons said. “We know that, but what we do have is a group of hungry individuals that are willing to improve every single day and fight for every second on the pitch. We might not have their roster, but our ambition is to be more successful than those four teams and to be able to achieve that it takes incredible work rate, togetherness, mentality, drive, and it’s not on game day, it’s every single day in practice.”

For Parsons, the credit for the team’s mental makeover goes to the players starting with captain and vice vaptain Ali Krieger and Diana Matheson, all the way through the squad’s younger players.

“It’s the group of players that we’ve got. We really went after players with certain characteristics and personalities, and attitudes,” Parsons explained.

Although the Spirit are finding success on the scoreboard, it hasn’t always looked pretty. The team has had a tendency of conceding goals shortly after finding the back of the net themselves. Washington has also suffered from bad giveaways and unforced errors. The team is working on cutting them down, but Parsons admits they are still committing too many of them.

Washington will soon welcome two new players that may help the team in this department: Defenders Niki Cross and Alex Singer are expected to join the team sometime this week after finishing their seasons with Bayern Munich and Turbine Potsdam, respectively. It’s unclear how long it will take to get their international clearances, however. Parsons admitted that the game against Boston on Wednesday and the first game of a back-to-back series against Portland might be too soon to expect them to be cleared.

It’s also unclear when they’ll be ready from a physical perspective. Cross did appear in Bayern Munich’s final few games of the season. Singer did not appear in any games recently for Turbine Potsdam and may be further away from making her Spirit debut.

The Spirit appears to be very shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball for the next couple of weeks as international call-ups have depleted a defensive core already thinned by injuries.

“We’ll have to move someone else to the back four that we’ve previously moved into the back four this season and it looked really good. So on paper it’s going to look makeshift, but internally we’ve seen a lot of this in practice, a lot of this in training,” Parsons told The Equalizer.

It seems Parsons may be referring to Danesha Adams, who saw a bit of time at right back a few weeks ago against the Houston Dash.

The latest injury to the Spirit defense is Crystal Dunn, who was supposed be a part the current U.S. national team camp. On Monday, U.S. Soccer revealed that Dunn had been replaced by Rachel Van Hollebeke. Dunn is suffering from a hamstring injury.

Washington also is still looking to fill its vacant international spot following the release of defender Cecilie Sandvej last month.

“I think the only thing I can kind of guarantee is the player that comes in out of the ones we’re pursuing, they’re going make an immediate impact. They won’t just be a great player for us. They’re going to be a big player for this league. In regards to having an impact and raising the profile and the level of the league, all the people we’re kind of in touch with kind of hit that box,” Parsons commented on filling the spot.

What needs are the Spirit looking to fill with this spot? First, the team needs bodies, period. Parsons noted that his shortened bench of 15 or 16 available players the last several weeks has led to players playing when they’re only feeling 80- or 90 percent healthy. Secondly, the team is looking for “(s)omeone in the central midfield or front three that brings that skill set to keep creating opportunities…”

Stay tuned as the Spirit will have to make a decision regarding the roster spot in the next few days as the current transfer period ends next week.

Notes: It’s now been over a year since Caroline Miller last saw NWSL action. Her last appearance was May 19, 2013. Miller is recovering from reconstructive ankle surgery last summer. She’s still recovering off the pitch and is probably still a few more weeks away from rehabbing on the pitch.


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