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Spirit streak ends, but Washington is still within striking distance

‘They were a good team … they were able to expose us’

Tara McKeown defends the ball
Photo Copyright Hannah Foslien for USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night, June 29, at home against the North Carolina Courage, the formidable Washington Spirit lost 0-1, ending a six-game undefeated streak. It was a rather lackluster performance from a Spirit squad that had scored 13 goals in the previous six and hadn’t been shut out since the season opener.

It also dropped the club to four points out of first place where the still-unbeaten Kansas City Current and Orlando Pride sit atop the table.

However, the loss wasn’t heartbreaking by any means. The Spirit were persistent in their attack registering 20 shots and four on goal to North Carolina’s eight and five. Possession was relatively even too with the Spirit at 48% for the match.

The Spirit also received word this week that four players would represent the club on the USWNT Olympic Roster: Trinity Rodman and Casey Krueger on the squad of 18, and Croix Bethune and Hal Hershfelt as backups. 

So, given the great streak and good news, why did the Spirit lose on Saturday? It came down to three things – lack of organization, lack of leadership, and lack of energy. Again, these are unusual phenomena for a team that seems to have answered some big questions this season, but no one is immune from a loss. 

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Interim coach Adrian Gonzalez, who will soon hand over the reins to Barcelona’s Jonatan Giraldez, echoed that sentiment in the post-game press conference. He especially focused on the lack of organization and evident confusion the squad exhibited on the pitch. “Right now, the feeling that I have is that we knew [the Courage] wanted to progress through the middle, and I think we didn’t adjust properly,” he told reporters.

“Especially in the middle today, we couldn’t find … the forwards,” Gonzalez continued. “We needed a lot of time to turn and we couldn’t progress … we weren’t as accurate as other games.”

Defender Tara McKeown shared similar reflections regarding the team’s disorder on Saturday night. In the post-game press conference, she talked especially about how the Courage were able to take advantage of the Spirit’s vulnerabilities. “They were able to find slip passes in the pockets and behind our backs,” McKeown told reporters, nodding specifically to the goal scored by former Spirit midfielder Ashley Sanchez in the 19th minute. 

“They were a good team,” Hershfelt added. “They were able to expose us.” 

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Midfielder, captain, and veteran leader Andi Sullivan also sat out of Saturday night’s game, and her absence seems to have affected the game’s outcome. No team’s success rides entirely on one member, but after the loss, coaches and teammates alike agreed that Sullivan was sorely missed. 

“She’s a player that brings leadership, brings patience for the build-up, she helps a lot,” Gonzalez said. Not having her on Saturday night, due to a hip injury, left a “huge, huge impact.”

“Andi brings so much to the team,” Hershfelt echoed. “That was something we were missing on the field, Andi really is our central leader. I feel like we did miss that quite a bit today, especially when it came to keeping the rhythm and intensity.” 

That lack of rhythm and energy was evident on the field on Saturday night as well. Despite the team’s high shot count, they appeared lethargic at times. “[The Courage is] a good team,” Hershfelt said, “but at the end of the day, I think it was up to us to just really turn it up, and we didn’t do that.” 

“I also really feel like we could’ve used some calmness,” Hershfelt said. “It’s all about the balance. I feel like there were some times where we could have taken control of the game in a different way, but we were too frantic.” 

Moving forward after a run-of-the-mill loss should be no big task for the Spirit. Teams lose. But members of Spirit themselves did seem a little surprised at the way they lost – energy, leadership, and connectedness have not been issues the team has struggled with so much in weeks. 

“We need to take this game as a learning experience,” Gonzalez said. “We know that we need to be more patient … We need to also have ambition and leadership with all the players on the pitch.” The Spirit’s next chance to prove themselves will come next Saturday, July 6, against Bay FC in San Jose, Calif.

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