Someday there should be a DC Women’s Soccer Hall of Fame, and Lori Lindsey should be in it.
The Washington Freedom had a laudable tradition that I hope the Spirit eventually decide to emulate: they created a “Hall of Freedom”, an honor bestowed on former players and personnel “in recognition of exceptional achievements, dedication and service.” The first year’s honorees were the obvious ones: forward Mia Hamm, goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, midfielder (and later World Cup organizer) Steffi Jones, and the late David Vanole, goalkeeper coach during the WUSA era. Those were chosen by the staff. In 2010, they set up a voting process that involved fans, media, and staff, and defender Jennifer Grubb – who both captained or co-captained the team and played every single minute during the WUSA era – was elected the next inductee.
There was no 2011, of course, but the next thought is who should have been honored but wasn’t. First on the list would definitely be John and Maureen Hendricks, who helped establish both the WUSA and WPS and supported the Washington Freedom from 2001 through 2010. Next, in my opinion, would be coaches Jim Gabarra and Clyde Watson, who were part of the team through the entire WUSA era and most of the WPS era, and as well kept the team going during the lean years from 2004-2008 when there was no professional league to participate in.
Finally, there are people who have earned the honor but are still too active to be awarded it yet. (Gabarra might arguably fall into this category as well.) Abby Wambach is clearly in this category, having led or co-led the Freedom in scoring in every year they’ve played professionally. Louise Waxler – the operations manager for the Freedom for most of its existence – would also get my vote. The only other person who’s definitely earned the honor – again, in my opinion – is Lori Lindsey.
Lori didn’t actually start her pro career with Washington. She entered the WUSA draft in 2002 and was picked fourth by the San Diego Spirit. For them she played in 20 games, starting 13, and scored 2 goals and 5 assists.
The Freedom got her remarkably cheaply during the 2003 draft, trading their second-round pick to the Spirit for one of San Diego’s third-round picks and Lori.
It was a surprisingly easy acquisition of a player who already had a strong pedigree. She was an NSCAA Parade All-American and the top high school goal-scorer in Indiana history, then went onto the University of Virginia and became arguably their best women’s soccer player ever, scoring 33 goals and 10 assists, and becoming the first player since Mia Hamm to win the ACC Player of the Year award twice, in 2000 and 2001. She was also a MAC Award finalist in 2001. Additionally, she played for the U-16, U-17, and U-21 national teams, winning the Nordic Cup in 2001 with the U-21s.
Lori, Meredith Beard, Emmy Barr, and me before a 2003 WUSA Washington Freedom match.
With Washington, she played solidly early on and scored her first goal in their third match (April 12), heading in a cross from Jacqui Little. On the other hand, she had a terrible performance in one of the most notorious matches in WUSA history, the sloppy June 8 match against Boston that featured three red cards. She did better on July 9, the first time she scored on one of her trademark shots from distance. This one was a bit unconventional – on an RFK pitch soggy after a thunderstorm just before the game, she sent in a low liner from at least 35 yards out that skidded on the wet grass past Philadelphia Charge goalkeeper Melissa Moore. On July 26, Washington had a key late-season match against San Diego with both teams contending for playoff spots. The Freedom utterly dominated the game, winning 2-0, and could have won 10-0 but for missed opportunities. Lori had one of them on a header in the goalmouth. She showed textbook form, knocking it downward the way you’re taught, but she did so with such force and the ground was so hard and dry that the ball bounced up and over the crossbar. I’m told that Mia Hamm came over afterwards and reassured her that she’d done exactly what she was supposed to do. She’d finish the season with those two goals, plus an assist.
The Freedom would go on to win the third and final WUSA Founders Cup, though with Lori on the bench for both playoff matches.
Lori and the team pose with the Founders Cup after winning it in 2003.
Soon after the end of the season, the WUSA folded, and during what should have been the prime of her playing career Lori could only play amateur matches. The Freedom kept on a few of their former professionals and formed a barnstorming team that played exhibition matches against whoever was willing to take them on. Lori played a few early games with them but then signed with the defending W-League champion Hampton Roads Piranhas for the 2004 season. However, she ended up not playing for them because she was called into US Women’s National Team camp in May and then signed to a contract to train with them in preparation for the Olympics later that year, though she didn’t make the final team and didn’t play an international match.
Signing autographs at the 2003 Meet-the-Team event.
She returned at least twice to the Freedom, the first on June 19 for one of the four WUSA Festival matches, in Blaine, MN, against the Boston Breakers. (The WUSA Festivals were intended to maintain interest in the league while a reboot was planned – obviously, nothing came of it.) She also returned to RFK for their big local exhibition game of the year, a July 14 doubleheader with DC United against Nottingham Forest’s women’s and men’s teams. She scored one goal in an 8-0 rout that featured a hat trick from a young Ali Krieger. The high spot of the day, though, was the unveiling of the WUSA championship banner.
A head shot from the barnstorming era, when practices took place on a supporter’s ample back yard.
The Freedom remained a barnstorming team in 2005, though what a team: adding players including Joanna Lohman, Emily Janss, Kylie Bivens, and Tiffany Roberts to their collection of Freedom veterans, they were as good as any league team out there and proved it, taking on the eventual W-League champion New Jersey Wildcats in New Jersey on July 9 and holding them to a 1-1 draw (in what is still one of the best club matches I’ve ever seen).
Lori returned to the team as a regular, scoring in their opening match and several times thereafter as the team went 7-2-2 against mostly W-League teams. She also got her first call-up to the US WNT and her first cap, coming in as a sub in a July 24 match against Iceland.
Lori takes a corner kick in the W-League era. (Yes, that’s what the Soccerplex looked like back then.)
In 2006 the Freedom became an associate member of the W-League and played a similar slate of matches. Also, with the retirement of former WUSA player Carrie Moore due to pregnancy, Lori inherited the captain’s armband. The team dominated most of the W-League competition but fell short of matching powerhouse teams like the Wildcats and the Ottawa Fury.
Things got real in 2007 when the team joined the W-League in earnest. They won the Eastern Conference’s Northeast Division with a 12-1-1 record, beat the Ottawa Fury in Ottawa, 1-0, to claim the Eastern Conference crown, won their semifinal against host Rochester easily, then downed the Atlanta Silverbacks in the final, 3-1. That match was all but decided in the first minute as Ali Krieger stole the ball from Atlanta, brought it forward, and passed it to Lindsey, who sent a perfect feed into an onrushing Rebecca Moros, who put it away. Lori was also named to the all-League team, the only Freedom player to be so honored.
On the national team front, she was again called into Residency Camp but again never played an official match.
In 2008 Washington again won the division (11-1-2), beat the Silverbacks again, this time to win the Eastern Conference, but then faced the Pali Blues in the league semifinals and lost, 2-0, with Danesha Adams scoring both goals. Washington’s best chance to score was on a free kick that Lori took, but it went off the post and out. The Blues would go on to win the first of their four W-League championships.
When asked about the most memorable parts of her career, Lori first mentioned the 2011 Women’s World Cup and then these two years. “The W-League years, when we played here with the Washington Freedom. It was a ton of us who were great friends, that was a crazy two summers that were so fun, playing with your best friends. We had a great group of players, won one year and then lost in the semifinals the next year. But those were the years that kept me going. Becky Sauerbrunn, a lot of players who are still playing now. KJ Spisak, our assistant [coach]. That kept me going when there wasn’t a professional league, and I was trying to make my way back to the national team.”
The Washington Freedom line up before a match in Boston in 2009.
With 2009 came a new professional league, Women’s Professional Soccer. The Washington Freedom were of course one of the teams, but nothing in the league setup allowed for players to be carried over from the previous year’s teams. Nevertheless, Jim Gabarra used all four of his picks in the 2008 General Draft on his former W-Leaguers: Sarah Huffman, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lori, and Emily Janss and added Alex Singer, Jill Gilbeau, Rebecca Moros, Sarah Senty, Kati Jo Spisak, and Christen Karniski – all from the 2008 team – to the roster in the January 2009 draft.
With the addition of allocated players like Cat Whitehill and Abby Wambach and internationals Sonia Bompastor and Lisa De Vanna, the Freedom – still captained by Lori – had a lineup strong enough to finish third in the league and host a home playoff game for the first time in DC ProWoSo history. But they fell to eventual champions Sky Blue. On the season, Lori would score two goals with one assist.
At the end of 2009 Gabarra had some tough decisions to make. The Atlanta Beat and Philadelphia Independence were joining the league, and existing teams had to pick 10 players to protect. For the Freedom, the three national teamers (Wambach, Krieger, Whitehill) and four internationals (Bompastor, De Vanna, Erin McLeod, Homare Sawa) were no-brainers. The next tier of players would consist of Sarah Huffman, Becky Sauerbrunn, Allie Long, Rebecca Moros, and Lori. Now pick 3. Sauerbrunn is pretty obvious, and Huffman isn’t far behind, while Moros is less key. So it probably came down with the promising young Allie and the veteran Lori. Gabarra decided to protect Long and, unsurprisingly, Lori became Philly’s first pick in the expansion draft.
Lori also began getting serious attention at the national team level, getting callups starting in late 2009 from Pia Sundhage.
2010 proved to be a career year for her with both club and country. She was selected as captain of the Independence and started 23 times for them, scoring 2 goals and a team-leading 8 assists. The expansion club made it to the WPS Final, where they lost to a stacked Gold Pride lineup, 4-0, looking tired after playing two tough playoff matches – including beating the Freedom – during the week leading into the final. She was named to the WPS All-Star Team and the WPS Best XI, as well as being the WPS Player of the Month for April.
She became a regular with the national team, appearing 13 times with 6 starts and leading the team that year with 7 assists, including one in each Algarve Cup group stage match, where she got her second through fourth caps starting on February 24 – again against Iceland.
The following year was a good one, too. Limited by national team obligations, she played 254 minutes in 9 games for Philadelphia, starting once, as the team finished second in the regular season, won the Super Semifinal against the former Washington Freedom, now magicJack, and went on to lose to the expansion Western New York Flash – like the Freedom, moving over from the W-League – in the final on penalty kicks.
Lori practicing with the WNT during the 2012 Algarve Cup.
For the US, she played in 10 matches and started 3. She was named to the World Cup team and played a full 90 in their second group match against Colombia. She considers that the high spot of her career. “Definitely the 2011 World Cup. I mean, what a journey. That was just crazy in itself. Our sendoff match had about 5500 fans, and then we come back and we’re selling out games like crazy.”
In 2012, the WPS disbanded, and in-between national team duties she ended up playing 4 games with the Western New York Flash competing in the WPSL-Elite league, scoring once, and helping them win their third straight championship in three leagues.
Becky and Lori after Algarve Cup practice in 2012.
At the 2012 “Celebration of Women’s Soccer” that was a feeler for a new professional league, Lori demonstrates to Becky the proper tongue technique for taking a penalty kick. (Photo by Ken L. Harriford.)
She was part of the US Women’s Olympic Team but the shorter rosters made her an alternate rather than a full member. Still, she traveled to London and practiced with the team though did not qualify for the gold medal that her teammates earned. Outside the Olympics, she played in 6 matches, starting 2, and scored her only international goal against Guatemala during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver.
Lori doing a pre-season post-game interview in 2013.
Come 2013, and professional women’s soccer was back for its third try, as the National Women’s Soccer League. Lori was still in the national team pool and was one of three players allocated to the Washington Spirit, along with Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger. She donned the captain’s armband once again but then had to deal with one of the toughest seasons of a women’s professional soccer team ever. With a coach not up to the professional challenge and a team management that thought an upgraded W-League team would be good enough to compete, the Spirit finished with 3 wins, 14 losses, and 5 ties – the third-worst record in US ProWoSo history. And it took replacing the coach and a couple of late wins just to get to that level. Through it all, Lori provided leadership and a sense of humor. “Last year,” said Parsons, “a lot of her role was to keep everyone smiling and alive, because it was a tough season. And she did that. She dragged this team through last year, on the field and off the field.” On an offense-starved team, she scored just two assists and one goal, but it was a beauty, firing a shot from the top right corner of the box into the upper left corner of goal to earn a 1-1 tie with the Boston Breakers in a May 11 home match.
Lori fires in her golazo against Boston. (Photo by “kazlovespinoe”.)
During the offseason, she tried a new adventure, traveling to Australia to play in their W-League with Canberra United, who went on to win the Premier title by winning the regular season, though they fell in the playoffs. Lori scored twice for them.
Lori in action for the Spirit. (Photo by Larry J. Clark.)
Back home with the Spirit, things turned around in 2014 with an upgraded roster and head coach Mark Parsons getting some time to mold the team. No longer a guaranteed starter, Lori generally yielded the captain’s armband to Ali Krieger. Still, she played over 1500 minutes and got a goal and an assist. The Spirit went 10-5-4 when she started but lost all 3 games when she didn’t.
That proved to be true of the Spirit’s first-ever playoff match, too, unfortunately, for which she was reportedly not healthy enough to play due to a sore ankle. She’s not quite done yet, though, as she’s heading Down Under to play a second season for Canberra in the Australian W-League. After that?
“Nothing set in stone yet, but I do love the fitness industry and the physical aspect of sports, so hopefully going in that direction.”
The enthusiasm and affection of the fans for her at her send-off match was almost palpable. I also thought it was a suitable coincidence that Jim Gabarra was there that evening, since she played for him for years, and without him she might never have come to DC.
The end of an era. (Photo courtesy of the DC Spirit Crew.)
As for me personally, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to call her a friend, but she’s so welcoming it’s hard to say otherwise. I was fortunate enough to be able to make it to the 2012 Algarve Cup and to cover it for this website. I attended a team practice after the first match and was standing to one side as the team exited the field. I just wanted to say hi to a few of the players I knew well enough to do so, but Lori caught sight of me and made it a point to come over and give me a hug. That’s just the kind of person she is, and you know with that approach she’s going to do well with whatever she decides to do after playing soccer.
Becky, Lori, and me at a 2008 tailgate party at a DC United match to promote the return of the Freedom.
But let’s leave the last words to two of her coaches. First, Jim Gabarra: “She’s the ultimate soccer junkie. I hate to say it but I think for all these years she’d have paid to play. I was blessed to have her as part of a bunch of teams. She stuck around here for years when we were trying to build something out of either ashes or cookie crumbs. She committed an awful lot just as we all did. I think it’s great to see her get acknowledged like she did tonight.”
And her college coach, Steve Swanson, who was asked about her stick-to-itiveness with regard to making the national team. “I wish more people would write about that. I think it’s an amazing quality to have. There’s a lot of young players who want everything so fast. There was a good chunk of time between the time she broke in as a professional and the time she broke into the full team. To have the perseverance, to push through and to keep working at it – especially with all the younger players coming through – says so much about who she is. She never doubted herself. She’s worked extremely hard. She’s always looked at her game and said, ‘How can I get better? How can I get better?’ And she made herself a national team player over the course of time after she graduated. She deserves a lot of credit for that. I wish more people would take that attitude. Her determination is what sets her apart.”
Another photo from the 2012 “Celebration of Women’s Soccer” event that I had to include just for the expression. (Photo by Ken L. Harriford.)