The Soccer Desk

#LetItRain: Washington draws 1-1 with UVA

WSvsUVA4

The Washington Spirit took on ACC powerhouse University of Virginia Cavaliers in monsoon-like weather conditions last night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Alexis Shaffer’s rocket in the 10th minute gave UVA the lead, but Washington equalized just before the end of the half when Pressley knocked the ball in the goal off a set piece.

WSvsUVAk

Last year the Spirit fell to the Cavaliers 6-3 in preseason. Today’s match illustrated how much both teams have changed since last Spring. UVA has a much younger team as many critical players, particularly defenders have graduated. The Spirit have also had quite a bit of roster turnover. Neither head coach Mark Parsons nor a majority of the current roster were present for this preseason match last year.

Both Steve Swanson and Mark Parsons highlighted how appreciative their team was to have the opportunity to play such a highly competitive match in the preseason. Parsons explained how both the UNC and UVA games provided different types of challenges for his squad. “We played two college teams and last week was probably the same speed as an NWSL game,” Parsons said. “I would say UVA brought the same quality of an NWSL team. Maybe not individually because they are so young, but as a team I thought they were incredible.”

Notably, this was the first match back for Ashlyn Harris following her knee surgery in December. She played for all 45 minutes of the first half. Unsurprisingly, Harris was very excited to be back after working tirelessly on her recovery for the last couple of months. Harris elaborated on her current focus and explained “right now I just have to keep working and get confident and get in the rhythm of playing and seeing games like today.”

The match started off a bit sloppily as the pitch was incredibly slick because of the steady downpour. It was immediately apparent that both Spirit wing backs would be pushing far up the pitch. In the 10th minute Alexis Shaffer took advantage of that positioning and beat Cecilie Sandvej by just enough to create a sliver of space and get off a shot. Shaffer blasted a shot straight above the hands of Harris and the ball nicked the cross bar and slammed into the goal.

The goal appeared to shake the confidence of the Spirit. There were countless unnecessary giveaways all over the pitch by a variety of players. Despite those giveaways, the Spirit still managed to maintain the majority of possession and put pressure on the Cavalier back line. However, the pressure was primarily concentrated on the wings and they failed to mount many serious attacks centrally or near goal.

Although most attacks generally fizzled on the wings, this meant that the Spirit generated a slew of corner kick opportunities. The Spirit equalized after a corner kick taken by Danesha Adams was knocked down and bounced dangerously in the box before Toni Pressley darted forward to knock it into the net.

WSvsUVAi

The Spirit didn’t score a single goal off a set piece last season. Pressley said improving on set pieces is one of her priorities. Given her height and size, she plans to be a presence in the box in 2014. Hopefully for the Spirit, this goal is a sign of things to come.

The Spirit made a couple of substitutions to start the second half. Harris, Sandvej, and Renae Cuellar came off, while Chantel Jones, Robyn Gayle, and Diana Matheson came on. Perhaps it was the waterlogged pitch or perhaps it was the waterlogged players, but neither side came out in the second half with quite as much energy as they did in the first 45 minutes.

One consistent issue in the second half was hesitation from Spirit players to get shots off. “Everyone wants to link and help each other,” Parsons noted. “Everyone wants to be the person to pass rather than get a shot off or get a rocket off. We need to zoom in on being dangerous, ruthless, and cutthroat in the final third.”

Jodie Taylor has continued to impress. It seemed as though she was omnipresent on the pitch last night. She was constantly running down balls, linking with other players, and attacking the goal. While she may still need a bit of time to adjust to the pace of the American game, her progress since arriving just over a week ago is incredible.

WSvsUVAg

Jordan Angeli and Crystal Dunn entered the game in the 70th minute. Dunn played, as expected, on the right wing. More surprisingly, Angeli went into midfield while Yael Averbuch slotted back to play as a center back. Her move to the backline demonstrates the versatility of many Spirit players to play multiple positions. Last week Bianca Sierra played left back and then moved to center back.

Neither side was able to breakthrough in the second half and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.

There were three players on the roster, but not available for the match. Colleen Williams and Caroline Miller are still working to come back from injuries sustained in 2013. Parsons said that Huster took a “tiny knock” last week, but he expects her to be back at 100% this week.

In other player related news, the Spirit announced, just a couple of hours before the match, that they had waived veteran center-back Candace Chapman. Chapman had struggled with injury last season and didn’t appear to be at 100% during the intra-squad scrimmage or preseason match against the University of North Carolina.

Next Saturday the Spirit will take on the University of Maryland. The game will kick off at 7 PM at the SoccerPlex. Follow me (@Sarah_Gehrke) for live updates from the match. As always I welcome any feedback or questions you may have!

  • guest

    Thanks for the write up, and for the live tweets during the match. And you must give props to whoever took these amazing photos, in the bad weather. Also, was the UVA player seriously injured at the end? The radio announcers did not sound too upbeat. Was the player okay?