BOYDS, Md. — The Washington Spirit preseason got underway Saturday under dreary weather conditions. Despite the rain, the excitement to be back at the Maryland SoccerPlex was unquestionable among the players, staff and fans.
There are, however, questions surrounding the team heading into the 2015 season. Chief among them relate to the team’s ability to score after losing forward Jodie Taylor and the ACL injury to midfielder Diana Matheson. On Thursday, head coach Mark Parsons said that while the team may look light up top, that won’t be the team’s situation for long.
“I know on paper right now it lights like we’re light up there, maybe we are, in my head I know who we’re in negotiations with,” Parsons said Thursday. “I know the quality of players we have and to be honest, by the time we’re done we’re probably going to have too many forwards.”
[PHOTOS: Spirit unveil new red and blue primary kits in scrimmage]
The Spirit are close to signing an international who is expected to help the team’s offensive production. The young player will play at the World Cup this summer, according to Parsons, but is expected to be available for 16 of the 20 regular season games. That would seem to imply that the player’s country is not expected to advance far in the World Cup.
Parsons described the player as “slightly unknown” and having a “huge future.” He hopes to have the contract completed in the next week. The player would not be able to join the team until April.
When this signing is complete, the Spirit will have one international spot still available. The team is currently in negotiations with two different players for this spot and whomever signs with the team is expected to join the club after the World Cup.
Washington’s scoring concerns are augmented by the fact that two of the four currently signed forwards — Tiffany Weimer and Caroline Miller — are returning from injury.
Caroline Miller, who hasn’t appeared in a professional game since May 16, 2013, played 30 minutes in the intra-squad scrimmage. While she didn’t get on the scoresheet, she showed promise and made some agile cuts with the ball.
Miller said after the scrimmage that her battle to get back on the field after three ankles surgeries has been a tough one.
“It’s been miserable. I don’t know any other way to put it,” Miller said bluntly. “It’s like I’d have surgery, rehab, come back, think it was good and then they’d say all over again, ‘No, you’ve got to have something done again.’ I think the third time was definitely the worst when they said it because I’d come back again. I was doing so well in practice and then it just started acting up again and they were like ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got to have surgery again.’ That was kind of crushing.”
Miller says she is at about 90 percent and that the main thing for her moving forward is building fitness. She also said that despite the team’s current roster situation, she’s not feeling added pressure.
“They have been so understanding about my ankle and they say just take your time,” Miller said. “We don’t care how long it takes. We want you back 100 percent and we don’t want you pushing it.”
The priority of getting his forwards back at 100 percent was reflected in Parsons’ refusal on Thursday to put a timeline on the return of either Miller or Weimer. They could be ready to go April 10 or it could be longer. He admitted that even if they are ready to go April 10, there’s no way either one would play 90 minutes.
Weimer did not play in the intra-squad and is in the final stages of recovery from an ACL injury in last year’s preseason.
Despite the possible initial unavailability of Miller and Weimer, Parsons says he has options for the frontline even now. In addition to forwards Estefania Banini and Laura Del Rio, Parsons named Amanda DaCosta, Crystal Dunn and rookie Caprice Dydasco as players that could see time up front.
Dydasco scored one of the goals in Saturday’s scrimmage, but it wasn’t the first time she’s found the back of the net this preseason.
“Caprice has been very good as a fullback and when she found herself forward in games or in 2-v-2 or 3-v-3 exercises, she scored some of the best goals of preseason so far,” Parsons said Thursday. “We’re already thinking maybe Caprice can play as a wide forward as well which she has done earlier on in her career.”
Dydasco, who notched five goals and 23 assists at UCLA, would welcome playing farther up the field.
“I would definitely love playing up top,” Dydasco said after the scrimmage. “I haven’t played there since high school so it would be very different, but I would love to be up there and be creative. I think that’s one strengths is taking on players and being able to attack.”
Speaking about the team as a whole, Parsons has clear objectives this season, naming improving the team’s consistency as one of them. Last year, the Spirit seemed to play the best against better opposition, while failing to take care of business against less successful teams.
“Our consistency wasn’t at the level it needs to be to be winning a championship,” Parsons said early this week. “We’ve got very clear objectives to improve and I think you’re seeing that in our signings. Players like Katherine Reynolds, Angela Salem, Joanna Lohman…they do a lot of the horrible stuff and they do it really well, but they’re also really talented players and intelligent players that suit our style of play.”
He feels specifically that these signings will help the team take huge steps forward in this area. Washington will have to be more consistent to find themselves in the playoff hunt again this year after finishing last season with a minus-7 goal differential.
The Spirit continue their preseason slate next Saturday against Virginia Tech at the SoccerPlex.
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