Ashley Herndon would score the Spirit Reserves’ one goal of the game
I went to the Soccerplex Wednesday evening hoping for some sort of success. The W-League Washington Spirit Reserves were taking on the Fredericksburg Impact, a must-win game for them to keep pace with the conference-leading Virginia Beach Piranhas. And they’d beaten the Impact comfortably in Fredericksburg earlier in the season. So I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of suspense, perhaps not the 8-1 pasting the Reserves gave the New Jersey Wildcats the last time they played on Maureen Hendricks Field, but still a comfortable win.
Nine minutes in we seemed to be on track. A series of crisp passes in the midfield achieved their objective when Tiffany Brown sent a through ball to Hayley Siegel. Siegel came in down the left, then sent a low cross to her right to Ashley Herndon, who knocked it in.
Three more shots in the next eight minutes all went right to Impact goalkeeper Jesse McGinley. In the 23rd minute, Kelsie Pardue sent a free kick from 22 out off the crossbar. Then in the 31st minute Fredericksburg forward Kara Blosser picked off a poor Washington pass, brought it in, and fired a quick shot from about 25 out into the upper right corner, out of the reach of goalkeeper Didi Haracic. The half ended with the score tied, 1-1.
The Spirit Reserves came out sloppy to start the second half, turning the ball over several times. It almost cost them when Haracic had to run out and dive to prevent an open shot in the box, then came up limping. But she recovered after a few minutes.
I could go into the gory details and describe one near-miss after another, but it can all be summed up in the defining moment of the night. It was the 84th minute, and Reserves forward Amber Stobbs got in close on the right and fired a shot that bounced off the crossbar and to Katy Colas on the left. Colas collected it and fired it back in again, only to have it bounce off the crossbar and out.
Jessica Van Dyke, who scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute in the previous match on Saturday after entering in the 73rd minute, came into this game in the 86th minute but was never able to get off a shot. She was one of the few. Every player except Van Dyke, goalkeeper Haracic, defender Meghan Cox, and defender Jordan Grant (who only played 38 minutes) got off at least one. Brown and Herndon had seven each. All in all, the team fired 34 shots toward the goal, 15 of which were on target, but only 1 went in. Fredericksburg, by contrast, had 3 shots, 2 on target, and 1 in.
Tiffany Brown would send in seven shots on the day (as did Herndon), but none would go in
“Frustrating is the word of the afternoon, for sure,” said coach J. P. Sousa. “How many times can you hit the woodwork? [“Twice in three seconds, apparently,” I interjected, and he laughed.] We had possession. We moved the ball around well. We found ourselves in front of the net. It just didn’t find its way into the net.”
I asked where the team went from here, in response to a game like this. “Just try to build on the positive, which was, we created chances. We had spells with wonderful possession, smart decision-making. So now when we’re in the attacking third, what are we going to do? It’s just going through it and working on shooting, the repetition of that, making sure that they feel confident that if they hit it it’s going to end up where it’s supposed to end up. It didn’t happen today, but it’ll happen the next day.”
I also talked with Saturday’s savior, Van Dyke, first about dealing with the abrupt coaching transition. “J.P. was actually my coach for the U-20′s as well. J.P .and Mark, they both share the same philosophy. I was a little bit closer to Mark, but J.P.’s been awesome. He knows how I play, so it’s been great for me. He knows when to get me in, and I hope I can finish my chances.”
And of course I had to ask her about her goal on Saturday. “That goal was every striker’s dream. I didn’t think once. Hayley rebounded off of a clear, and I had just yards and yards ahead of me. The number one thing is, I love getting behind the defense. And as soon as I got behind the defense – which was weird for me – I decided to just kick it as far as I could, and it just went over her head, and I’m glad I kept my composure. I’m so happy it went in. It just gave me a lot of confidence.”
Then we had to talk about the day’s game. “It definitely was frustrating. I definitely think I’m going to beat myself up a little bit when I get in the car. But these games just motivate you. When you don’t get the result, you just want to get right back and prove yourself even more. So we’ve got a big game this Saturday, and then we going to head to the playoffs. I just want to finish strong, get the championship, and head to preseason.” (Van Dyke is a redshirt junior at the University of Maryland.)
The Reserves play at the Virginia Beach Piranhas this Saturday in what is now a meaningless game since the Piranhas have clinched first place in the conference, and the W-League Spirit have clinched second. That game will be a dress rehearsal for the Northeastern Conference championship, which Virginia Beach will host the following weekend. The winner of that will head to Bradenton, FL, to participate in the W-League’s Final Four.
Okay, well, so much for the W-League team. At that point I figured, well, last time the Reserves scored a ton of goals and the pros didn’t, maybe it’ll be reversed this time. And we all know how that turned out. The game’s already been recapped by better writers than me, so I won’t make you suffer through it yet again. Good points are the Toni Pressley has proved to be an outstanding acquisition. Bad points are that Conny Pohlers so far has not. Also, while Matheson is back from her injury she doesn’t seem to be at the same level she was at before. And while new head coach Mark Parsons has injected a new energy into the team, so far there’s very little to show for it.
Beau Dure quite reasonably points out that with the current two-games-a-week schedule, Parsons has had little time to work on his philosophy in practice. I get the feeling that the team is going to turn the corner at some point; I just wonder how long it’s going to take. And I keep reminding myself that the WUSA-era Washington Freedom went from worst in the league in 2001 to almost unbeatable in 2002 with only a few tweaks to the lineup. (Though admittedly one of those tweaks was adding their first-round draft pick, eventual Rookie of the Year Abby Wambach. ).