In an unexpected move this week, the Washington Spirit waived forward Caroline Miller. The move came just weeks after the Virginia product made her 2015 debut after being sidelined for two years.
Washington head coach Mark Parsons revealed that he had an earnest conversation with Miller regarding her role on the team. Miller asked to be released by the team after Parsons told her he couldn’t offer her more playing time.
“We weren’t going to be able to give her what she wants or needs and that puts us in a tight bind because the roster is very small and thin,” Parsons said. “We don’t have many forwards but the girl’s been out for two years. She’s now back. She’s fit and I can’t give her 90 minutes, I can’t give her 60 minutes. I don’t think I can give her 30 minutes at this moment because of the strength of our roster.”
With Miller off the roster, the Spirit are down to 18 contracted players and Parsons expects to remain at that number through the World Cup, barring something unexpected. While the squad will be thin until then, he thinks his team will manage just fine.
“We’re in a good place,” he said. “It’s a thin roster but Seattle and Kansas (City) got to the championship last year on two of the thinnest rosters in the league. So if they can do it for six months, I think we can do it four or five weeks and then the problem completely U-turns.”
After the World Cup, the Spirit will gain Mexicans Veronica Perez and Arianna Romero, as well as presumably then healthy Canadian Diana Matheson, in addition to the internationals that have already played in NWSL this season. Parsons also expects to bolster his side with the two international slots available to the club following the loss of Estefania Banini for the season.
Parsons kept it close to the vest regarding any possible international signings, but previously he’s hinted at an addition that would help notch goals.
At present, the Spirit’s last couple of weeks have been cause for concern among those hailing the team as potential title contenders. Following a 1-0 win over Sky Blue, who looked better team throughout and a surprising 3-2 loss to Western New York, the Spirit are looking to closeout the 2 week stretch before the World Cup break strong.
Parsons admitted after the Sky Blue game that his squad was tired, citing a tough schedule including a three-week stretch on the road as the culprit. He made some tweaks in the training regimen including moving the start of practice back a hour to get his players more rest.
The team prioritized the issues he felt they needed to address following the poor performance against Sky Blue.
“We hit a few things and I felt like we did some good work last week,” Parsons revealed. “The biggest thing we worked on was Crystal playing central…We feel like confident that she can play any of those three roles (up top) at any point & that just makes us unpredictable.”
What about the loss to the Flash? Surprisingly, Parsons wasn’t too displeased with the team’s performance.
“We dominated the first half. They hit us on two counterattacks, one led to a goal, one led to a corner kick,” he said. “We got in and had nine quality chances, not all of them were shots…They were created on things we wanted to work on. They were created on things we worked on in training, the game strategy. The quality chances that (Western) New York created were from our mistakes.”
Parsons says he was okay with his players making mistakes provided they’re not making the same ones over and over.
“We can make new mistakes. That’s about learning and moving forward,” he said, “We can’t be making the same mistakes. I don’t feel like we have a habit of making the same mistakes. We’re just trying to tick off every possible mistake you can make in short succession.”
One mistake the Spirit will try not to repeat this weekend, is the one that led to Jasmyne Spencer’s game-winner in last week. The 5-foot-1-inch forward managed to beat the Spirit to cross in the air and headed it in.
“Any of the four defenders, the back four, despite Jaz having a huge vertical, if their positioning is right and they get up early enough whether someone has big vertical or not, if you’re up first, the player who’s underneath you can’t get up,” Parsons said. “So yeah I think some better defending can happen there. ”
This weekend, the Spirit take on the Portland Thorns, who have lost their last two matches. Washington’s tie in Portland three weeks ago was a disappointment for the visitors after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes.
Given the state of the league, it’s a bit early to call any game a must-win but Parsons admits a victory against Portland would huge for his club mentally. It would obviously help their place in the standings. More importantly, he thinks a win would huge boost for the team psychologically as Spirit have never beaten the Thorns.
From a psychological standpoint, it will also be interesting to see how the Spirit respond if Tori Huster is unable to play. Huster took a knock to her ankle in last week’s game and had to be subbed off. The captain had played every minute of the year until that point.
On Wednesday, Parsons said that Huster was “doing okay” and would likely be listed as probable or questionable on the injury report. Given Western New York’s dominance in the midfield last week and Christine Nairn’s presence further up the field, the potential loss would likely augment the issues in that area of the pitch.
For the Spirit’s opponents, Saturday’s match could also be huge psychologically. The Thorns obviously don’t want to drop three games in a row. The match between Washington and Portland kicks off Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
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