BOYDS, Md. — During Saturday’s press conference following a victory over Seattle Reign FC, Washington Spirit head coach Mark Parsons was sweating profusely.
His condition wasn’t a result of a close match; the Spirit struck three times in the second half en route to a shutout victory. But rather, the sweat was due to Parsons’ attire.
At the height of the infamously muggy Washington, D.C., summer, Parsons sported a long sleeve dress shirt and tie. With the Spirit welcoming back its World Cup participants, did the coach dress up to mark the occasion?
Not exactly. Parsons’ clothing choice was an ode to the last time he and his team beat the Reign and their head coach, Laura Harvey, the 2015 draft.
“Last time we beat Laura Harvey and Seattle was at the draft and I wore this at the draft,” he explained. “We grabbed someone very special and then we grabbed another one very special that she wanted.”
Few would argue that the Spirit didn’t need to improve the back line after grabbing a playoff spot in 2014 despite a negative goal differential. Rather, it was part of the strategy in which the team employed to solidify the defense that turned heads. Washington bid adieu to the team’s leading scorer in 2014, Jodie Taylor, for two draft picks.
Just over halfway through the 2015 NWSL season, Parsons’ gamble appears to have paid off. The lynchpin in Washington’s draft day haul was UCLA center back Megan Oyster, who is the only member of the Spirit who has played every minute this season.
Last week after a training session, Parsons explained that the priority in moving Taylor was grabbing the second-round pick that was used to get Oyster. Oyster’s composure on the ball and ability in the air have been key to Spirit’s back line so far this season.
“On the ball, she plays short, she plays long. She breaks pressure,” Parsons said. “Defensively, I love it when she comes through and wins a header or comes through, wins a challenge and breaks.”
Oyster’s style of play has been shaped by her experiences both playing forward as a youth player and playing on a boys team. Having previously played striker serves Oyster on the back line as she knows attacking players’ tendencies and how forwards make runs. Some habits of playing farther up the field die hard, however, as Oyster has to keep in mind the need to be more restrained in the back.
“I’m used to having all that freedom in the world to just dribble and take people on and I still have that little thing inside me I want to do that in the back, but I know that being disciplined is more important,” Oyster admitted. “It can be hard and it challenges me because I love to dribble and take people on or score even, but especially at this level you can’t do that.”
She feels that playing on a boys team added a bit of “spunk” to her game. She wasn’t going to get pushed around by her opponents then and she isn’t going to now.
Oyster called starting in her first professional game an “amazing experience” and credited her veteran teammates and the coaching staff with helping to prepare her for taking a large role as a rookie.
“I feel like I have had great support from the older players,” Oyster said. “They’ve used their experience and shown me the way. So with their help and Mark and all the other coaching staff, I think they have really set me up for success and the ability to play all those minutes.”
As with any rookie, Oyster has had her ups and downs this season. On one night this season, she experienced extreme highs and lows all in one. On June 20, the Spirit were slated to face off against the Chicago Red Stars. It was supposed to be the Chicago native’s first professional game in her hometown, but Mother nature had other plans.
The game was delayed twice for weather and was eventually called off in the 39th minute, but not before Oyster scored off a corner kick to give Washington the lead.
What could be more perfect than scoring your first professional goal in your hometown?
Unfortunately for the center back, the goal wouldn’t stand as the game was called just minutes before halftime, the length of time required for a game be official. To make matters worse, although a bunch of Oyster’s family and friends had come to see her play, only her mom, dad and her high school coach remained when play resumed for the second time around 11 p.m. local time, when Oyster scored.
That game has been rescheduled for August 16 and Oyster is looking forward to playing in front of a hometown crowd and having it count this time around. Who knows, maybe she’ll score.
Oyster’s had some help handling the roller coaster-like transition to the professional ranks as she’s shared the journey with her college teammate, Caprice Dydasco, who was also drafted by the Spirit in January.
“It’s just the ultimate support system we’ve been through so much together,” Oyster said. “We started UCLA she’s seen my journey, I’ve seen hers. To have me know her inside and out and be there for every step that happens because I mean so much happens at one practice even I mean, we’ll have one bad pass or a really good moment and she’s there to tell me and help me through it all. So it’s just been amazing.”
In addition to being teammates, the two are also living together while in D.C. and are enjoying exploring the nation’s capital together.
Parsons thinks Oyster has a lot of potential. He is impressed with the progress Oyster has made so far. The target for Oyster and the coaching staff now is to eliminate the small lapses of concentration.
“The toughest thing about focus and concentration is it comes with action,” Parsons said. “It comes with experience…Those lapses are getting smaller and smaller, if she’s done that in just five months what she can do in 2 or 3 years will be exceptional.”
That’s surely music to Spirit fans’ ears for a rookie who shows so much potential.
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