Spirit wins opening match of Challenge Cup, 2-1

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor 

Photo by Rob Gray/ISI Photos

WASHINGTON – Goals by midfielder Rose Lavelle and striker Ashley Hatch led the Washington Spirit to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars Saturday in their opening game in the National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup.

Under the new tournament format in Utah, a “recalibrated” Washington Spirit looks to continue the upward trajectory it ended the 2019 season. It only took seven minutes into the contest before Lavelle, a U.S. Women’s National Team starter, crushed a loose rebound into the top left corner of the net to give the Spirit a one-goal lead.

Twenty seconds into the second half, Hatch, who led the team in scoring last season, pounced on an extra touch by Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to steal the loose ball and score in the open net.

“We have players that can provide magical moments at any time during the game, and they are chopping at the bit to play,” Head Coach Richie Burke said Thursday.

Ashely Sanchez, the No. 4 pick of the 2020 NWSL College Draft and a U.S. Women’s National Team prospect, excelled in her first start in a Spirit uniform. The former UCLA striker joined Lavelle and Hatch in multiple attacks as Washington finished with six of its 10 shots on target.

“That kid is an incredibly talented kid,” Burke said. “Our job is to keep her moving forward because she is a prestigious talent…She is small and slight but tricky and fast. She is going to take her lumps at this level, but she is a very talented kid. She is someone you’re going to enjoy watching because she will run at you and take you on.”

Midfielder Kumi Yokoyama, one of the Spirit’s five new international players, struggled to adjust the play’s speed by both teams. Burke said he expects her to add more flair in the attack once she adjusts to his press-based offense and the league’s pace of play.

Despite Chicago midfielder Morgan Gautrat’s goal in the 51st minute, the Spirit remained in control of the contest. A last-ditch effort by Chicago’s striker Bianca St. Georges in the Spirit’s six-yard box was denied by goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe’s one-handed save to secure the win for Washington.

Before the contest, Burke said this year’s squad is ready to exceed expectations after an eventful offseason. The Spirit began training in Florida in March before being called back home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Washington returned to training in May in Virginia because they had no access to their practice facilities at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

The lack of preseason friendlies meant for the Spirit did not test possible starting lineups outside of practice or acquire intel on their future opponents. Without the usual warm-up games, the team’s endurance was quickly tested against Chicago, with Washington using three of its five substitutions before the 70th minute.

Washington has three more games remaining before the knockout round, two of which are with playoff teams from last season. For Burke, the rest of the Challenge Cup will be like its namesake, challenging but believes the Spirit are up for the task.

“We have had to recalibrate at every single turn,” Burke said. “This is another opportunity to do so, but I believe in the players, and I believe that we have a talented squad.”

The Spirit will face the reigning NWSL Champion North Carolina Courage on Wednesday at 10 p.m., with the game broadcast live on CBS All-Access.

During Saturday’s match, the club unveiled its 2020 new home kit. The navy blue jersey features grey horizontal stripes and paired with red shorts. CVS Health, the team’s latest sponsor, is prominently displayed in the front of the new jersey.

Sandy Spring, the team’s first-ever official banking partner, will on the jersey sleeve. On the back of the jersey, Progressive Insurance will be featured on the yoke while founding sponsor, the Women and Girls in Soccer (WAGS) returns to occupy the space beneath the players’ numbers.

Washington Spirit announce 31-Player Preseason Roster

By The Sports Pulse Staff

Boyds, Md.– The Washington Spirit announced an initial 31-player roster as the 2020 NWSL Preseason officially begins today.

Included on the 31-player roster are six non-roster invitees and five players that were selected in the 2020 NWSL College Draft.

The Spirit will have an inaugural preseason warm-weather camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida, from March 12 to March 25. The warm-weather camp will provide Spirit players with high-quality pitch conditions and will improve the quality of outdoor training sessions.

The Spirit will return to the DMV to play their first game of the preseason on March 28 against the University of Virginia at the Maryland SoccerPlex. For the Spirit’s full preseason schedule, and more information, click here.

Five members of the roster have recent the United States Women’s National Team experience, with midfielders Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan currently with the team at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup and Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, forward Ashley Hatch, midfielder Jordan DiBiasi having joined the USWNT for training camps in November, December and February, respectively.

Canadian international Jenna Hellstrom joined the Canadian Women’s National Team for the 2019 World Cup, and forward Kumi Yokoyama has 43 career caps for the Japanese Women’s National Team.

The Spirit roster has five 2020 NWSL College Draft picks on the roster for the second year in a row. The players were selected across all four rounds of the draft, ranging from the No. 4 overall pick to No. 32. No. 4 pick Ashley Sanchez (UCLA), No. 13 Natalie Jacobs (USC), No, 17 Averie Collins (Washington State University), No. 23 Katie McClure (Kansas), and No. 32 Kaiya McCullough (UCLA) will be making their professional debuts March 28 against the UVA.

The six Non-Roster Invitees are Taylor Aylmer, Alexandra Jackson, Morgan Goff, Lauren Harkes, Meghan McCool, and Dani Rhodes. 

Lavelle and Sullivan will rejoin the club after the conclusion of the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. Bledsoe and Staab will rejoin the team after the conclusion of play in the W-League in Australia. Bledsoe’s Sydney FC and Staab’s Western Sydney will both be playing in the W-League Semi-Finals this weekend.

Tickets for all Spirit home games and the home opener against OL Reign at Audi Field on April 18 are available now!

2020 Washington Spirit Preseason Roster

Goalkeepers (3): Aubrey Bledsoe (NYR), Devon Kerr, Katie Lund

Defenders (10): Tegan McGrady, Sam Staab (NYR), Paige Nielsen, Taylor Aylmer (NRI), Jenna Hellstrom, Brooke Hendrix, Tori Huster, Alexandra Jackson (NRI), Kaiya McCullough (CDP), Natalie Jacobs (CDP)

Midfielders (10): Dorian Bailey, Jaye Boisierre, Jordan DiBiasi, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Morgan Goff (NRI), Lauren Harkes (NRI), Rose Lavelle (NYR, FED-USA), Meghan McCool (NRI), Jessie Scarpa, Andi Sullivan (NYR)

Forwards (8): Averie Collins (CDP), Bayley Feist, Ashley Hatch, Katie McClure (CDP), Dani Rhodes (NRI), Ashley Sanchez (CDP), Crystal Thomas, Kumi Yokoyama

Key:

CDP – 2020 NWSL College Draft pick

NRI – Non-Roster Invitee

NYR – Not Yet Reported to Camp

FED – 2020 Federation Player