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Gordon: Thoughts from Spirit 1-1 Flash

Spirit coach Jim Gabarra says Kelsey Wys (18) is the club's starter "for now" (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Spirit coach Jim Gabarra says Kelsey Wys (18) is the club’s starter “for now” (photo copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

The Washington Spirit officially clinched a playoff spot for the third straight season Saturday night with a 1-1 draw against the visiting Western New Flash. The Flash held a decisive advantage in all offensive statistical categories, however, were unable to convert. Saturday night’s tie provided some insight about two sides who could very well face each other again in the postseason.

Spirit Defensive Woes A Cause For Concern

In four of the first five games of the season, Washington held their opponents scoreless. In their last five contests, they have managed just one clean sheet.  While it’s fair to say that offensive production across the league has improved since the first couple of months, the team’s inability to shut down opponents of late is one of the concerns for Spirit supporters as the postseason looms.

Moreover, in the last three games the team has played, the Spirit have allowed goals in the last 20 minutes of the match while leading. That shows an inability to close games out, which is obviously critically important in the playoffs . Until last night, that trend hadn’t cost the team any points.

Saturday, the Spirit were successful in stymieing the Flash’s initial forays forward on most occasions, but failed to win second balls and maintain possession in the middle of the pitch. In net, Kelsey Wys made some fantastic saves to maintain status quo, but her distribution was less stellar. Most notably,  once in the first half, Wys, who was not under a significant pressure, botched a ball that was played back to her and it went sailing into the top of the press box.

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Postgame, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said that Wys, despite the return of Stephanie Labbe, was the team’s starter, at least for now. Gabarra said that the Florida State product had earned the job by taking advantage of her opportunity while Labbe was gone.

When asked about playing against two pacey front lines with Orlando and Western New York the past two matches, Gabarra said the key was setting the right line. Gabarra called this portion of Washington’s game a “work in process.”

“I thought in Orlando we had it spot on almost the entire match.” he said, “The difference there is they (Western New York) were playing with three forwards so our wide defenders are using a little bit different defending tactic where there were times in the first half where we were 2 v 2 in our half of the field and we never want to have that. We want to have one of our wide defenders pinching in and saying connected to the line…”

Getting the team in sync defensively is an important piece of the puzzle for the Spirit’s chances at raising the trophy in Houston. With two games this week, it will be interesting to see if Washington can make progress on this front.

Washington’s Mentality

It’s funny how time changes things. The first two seasons the Spirit made the playoffs, the team certainly would have been thrilled to lock up a spot with three games left in the season and do it with “no help.”  

Saturday, the team mathematically clinching a playoff spot and being the first to do so, seemed almost like an afterthought. Postgame, Diana Matheson, albeit in her first game in a Spirit uniform in two months, wasn’t even aware that the draw sealed the deal. When asked if knowing the team could clinch going into the game added any pressure, Gabarra said he didn’t get a sense of that in the locker room.

“No, I have a sense of disappointment and I think the team does as well because our goal is to get three points.” Gabarra said following the draw. “We’re looking at more of a getting a home field advantage more than just clinching a playoff spot and that’s probably more important than actually clenching a spot for us where we are on the table.”
Gabarra’s reaction to getting the draw speaks to the overall ambitions of the club. While the past two years they were focused on getting to the dance, this season, they’re focused on leading it.

Deja Vu

A quote from head coach Paul Riley sums up Western New York’s performance rather succinctly.

“We created enough chances to sink the ship, but we didn’t sink the ship, unfortunately, and the ship marches on at the top of the league.”

Of course, ships don’t march, but for the second time this season, the Flash bombarded the Spirit goal with a number of dangerous opportunities  but were unable to take the full three points.

In both meetings with the Spirit this season, if the scoreline had been covered up and you looked at the rest of the statistics, chances are you would have guessed the Flash were victorious. Of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story, but here, Western New York dominated much of the two matches. Nonetheless, the Flash only walked away with one point against the Spirit on the season.

Despite only managing a point, the Flash have proven to be one of the toughest match ups for the team that’s currently pretty comfortably atop the table. For naysayers who point to the fact that they play the Boston Breakers more than anyone else, the Flash’s performances against the Spirit, although they didn’t win, show they belong in playoff contention.
If these two sides meet again, which is definitely a possibility, it’s hard to imagine  if the third meeting were to play out similarly to the first two that the Flash would not emerge victorious.


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