NWSL Season kickoff in Washington with Washington Spirit vs North Carolina Courage

Written By: Merrissa Vault
The National Women’s Soccer League debuted its fifth season Saturday across the country with matches in Texas, Oregon, and Washington. One of the more notable games of the day took place in Boyds, Maryland, home to the Washington Spirit. The Washington Spirit opened their season against the North Carolina Courage, formerly known as the Western New York Flash. This season opener showcased a rematch of the 2016 NWSL Championship. The Spirit hoped to avenge themselves against the defending champions whom they lost to in PKs. Despite the beautiful weather and 2,400 fans in attendance, the Spirit failed to avenge themselves against the united front that was the North Carolina Courage.

The first half began with a 50-50 match-up between the Spirit and Courage. The Spirit recorded 3 corner kicks in the first 5 minutes and appeared to have more offensive momentum. That momentum was soon put to a halt when the Californian native for the courage, McCall Zerboni, scored the first goal of the game off a powerful cross across field from her fellow Californian teammate, Makenzy Doniak (18’). NC Courage withheld with their dynamic momentum the rest of the half. Courage’s Debinha was the featured player in the first half showing great ball control and creating opportunities for her and her teammates as they continued to try and feed their two strikers, Williams and McDonald, up top.

In the 33rd minute Washington Spirit’s forward, Cheyna Wiliiams, went down with an injury, not return for the remainder of the game. Following the loss of their renowned forward nothing else appeared to go Washington’s way in the last 15 minutes of the half, as the Spirit were unable to find their footing in the final third.

The 2ND half continued to favor NC Courage as the Washington Spirit continued to look sluggish across the field. The Spirit’s backline failed to keep up with the speedy forwards, McDonald and Williams, as they penetrated the defense with quick through balls and run on balls into space down field.

On the Spirit’s offensive front, the attack looked just as lethargic as they struggled to find feet and find players into space. Around the 65th minute Washington’s Katie Stengel boasted some crafty footwork to get past multiple defenders and the goal keeper only to miss a wide open net.

In the final 10 minutes of the game the Spirit seemed to awake slightly from their slumber but it wasn’t enough to overcome their 1-0 deficit and NC Courage took home the season opener for the 2017 NWSL season.

The defending champs have a lot to look forward to this season. With 1 win under their belt and a total of 23 shots (10 on goal, 12 off goal) they will look to take more advantage of the opportunities they create in front of goal.

Courage’s McCall stated, “The more and more chances we create the percentage is going to go in. We can definitely get more clinical in front of goal.”
The Courage is definitely satisfied with their opener but will look forward to improve as they continue throughout the season.

On the other hand, the Washington Spirit with zero shots on goal and a 46% possession rate will hope to put this L behind them and use it as a learning tool.
Coach Jim Gabarra noted that they will look to work on possession and movement off the ball in their upcoming trainings.

Goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbé, without a doubt the MVP for the Washington Spirit today talked about a couple things she hopes to key in on in their following match.
“Getting back on the same page, and people wanting the ball at our feet, and being tighter as a team so we can play the 1 and 2 touch football that we want to play, and not be so spread out.”

The Washington Spirit will start their season with a loss to one of the top teams in the NWSL, but leave the match with a lot to work on as they prepare for their next match on Saturday, April 22 vs the Orlando Pride.

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