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The heat is no match for the Washington Spirit’s firepower

‘We were aware that the weather was a key factor today … It wasn’t a good option to play at 1:30’

Courtney Brown takes a shot in the game against Gotham
Photo Copyright Lucas Boland for USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Spirit have been pretty hot lately. On Sunday, June 23, in an away game in New Jersey against NJ/NY Gotham FC, they ran into weather that was even hotter. So hot, in fact, that the game had to be postponed to 6 p.m. from its original start time of 1:30 p.m. to spare the players from playing in the scorching heat. But the burn of the heat wave didn’t outdo the blazing energy of the Spirit, who beat Gotham 2-0 and extended their 2024 unbeaten streak to six games. 

“We were aware that the weather was a key factor today,” remarked interim head coach Adrian Gonzalez after the match. In the postgame presser, he explained how he adjusted some of his coaching plans to accommodate the extreme heat, prioritizing player health and safety throughout the game. “It wasn’t a good option to play at 1:30. We tried to run less, and better, for sure … It was a challenge because player fatigue was high.” The adjustment from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. made a considerable difference but in a heat wave like the one much the county is currently experiencing, the days and the nights don’t feel so different. 

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But, not everyone seemed so discouraged by the oppressive heat. “It was hot out there, but I didn’t think it was too bad,” midfielder Courtney Brown, who scored her first goal on Sunday against Gotham, told the media after the game. “The humidity made the air thick, but the heat was pretty manageable.” 

With her goal, Brown became the 11th scorer for the Washington Spirit this season, and the fourth rookie to score in the 2024 campaign. Her goal was assisted by rookie phenom Croix Bethune, whose assist – her ninth – made her the all-time Spirit single-season assist leader. The win officially made this Spirit start the best in club history, and it marked the first time the Spirit have ever won three straight road matches as well.

Those following the Spirit this season have seen them grow from a team that had some obvious improvements to make to a team that has comfortably asserted itself at the top of the table. Gonzalez has credited a lot of the team’s improvement and success to the leadership displayed by team veterans, like Casey Krueger and Andi Sullivan. But on Sunday night, he made sure to shout out the rookies, who are making such an impact for the Spirit on the pitch.

“The rookies, these players coming from college, they needed time to develop,” Gonzalez said. “They needed time to get adjusted to the league … but they are training very good, and we are giving them chances because we believe in them. They are doing an amazing job and we need them. They are the future of the Washington Spirit, and that’s why, step by step, they are getting more minutes and more experiences.”  

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As always, however, a win is a team effort. And Sunday night’s win was all the more electrified by goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe’s penalty save in the 88th minute – against her former college roommate Katie Stengel, no less. “She’s a good friend of mine,” Bledsoe laughed. “We have a longstanding history of facing each other in big games. I went off my instincts … I didn’t want to give it away this late in the game.” 

As Bledsoe, Brown, and others admitted, Sunday night’s game against Gotham wasn’t anything near a layup. Rather, it was a tactical battle, with Gotham pressing aggressively. “They have a lot of informed players, and they’re on a streak themselves,” Bledsoe said. “We were a little frantic in the beginning of the game. We couldn’t solve the first line of pressure.” 

But, as Gonzalez has emphasized all season, the team figured out how to adjust. They especially took advantage of a red card drawn by Gotham’s Yazmeen Ryan at the end of the first half. “The red card changed the game for sure,” Gonzalez said. “We tried to be more patient with the ball, adjusted the shape, created more chances … we knew we needed to slow down the game.” 

Sunday night’s victory proved once again that the Spirit can handle all types of challenges. Whether it’s the predictable factors, like a star-studded team, or the unpredictable ones, like a 100-degree day, the Spirit are adjusting, adapting, and firing them forward, even in the most searing of circumstances.  

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