The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 15: DCU News, Lavelle leaving? and CONCACAF

Featuring  José Umaña and Mario Amaya

Tune in for The Bad Hombres Podcast every week on Thursdays at 8 p.m. as soccer journalists José Umaña and Mario Amaya talk on the main topics dealing with D.C. United, Washington Spirit and any soccer news in the DMV.

Sky Blue FC ends the Spirit’s Challenge Cup dreams in PKs

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo: Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos

Bayley Feist slowly walked back to the center of the field at Zion Bank Stadium into the waiting arms of her Washington Spirit teammates. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan saved the midfielder’s penalty kick attempt to end a best-of-five shootout in their NWSL Challenge Cup quarterfinals match vs. Sky Blue FC.

Sky Blue FC players rushed to celebrate with Sheridan as Feist walked towards head coach Richie Burke. He hugged her immediately, reminding her that she was a good footballer. Despite playing exciting offensive soccer throughout the tournament, Burke said their lack of experience in critical situations proved to be a difference.

“When you get in a situation like that, sometimes nerves take the better of you, and some young players don’t take the same penalties that they take in training for whatever reason, and here we are,” Burke said.

The Spirit remained scoreless by the end of regulation time against Sky Blue FC. Their run came to an end after two missed attempts in a 4-3 loss on penalty kicks Saturday.

Washington was riding high following the primary stage, finishing as the No. 2 ranked team and highest seed remaining in the Challenge Cup following the North Carolina Courage’s loss on Friday.

Against the No. 7 Sky Blue FC, the Spirit were without captain Andi Sullivan due to a meniscus tear injury. U.S. Soccer, who monitored all U.S. Women’s National Team players conditions throughout the tournament, placed a minute’s restriction on midfielder Rose Lavelle, which forced Burke to start her on the bench and bring her in midway through the second half.

Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the first half. Washington’s best chance came in the 42nd minute came as Tori Huster delivered a cross from the edge of the penalty area to find a diving Ashley Sanchez for a header. Sheridan slapped the attempt down for the save.

Sanchez tired again two minutes before halftime with a one-timer from behind the penalty spot, but it was stopped yet by the Canadian international. Sheridan finished regulation with seven saves.

Eight minutes into the second half, forward Kumi Yokoyama received a pass from fellow striker Ashley Hatch to connect with a volley attempt at the Sky Blue goal. While the shot flew past Sheridan, the ball ricocheted off the goal post, keeping the match scoreless.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to work on, just being clinical on the final third, and not just down to [Hatch] scoring a game-winning goal,” Huster said.

Following a scoreless 90 minutes, the game went to a penalty kick shootout to settle who would go to the semifinals. After both teams scored in the opening first two rounds, Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe dove to her right to save midfielder Dominique Richardson, opening the door for the Spirit to take the lead.

HERRIMAN, UT – JULY 18: Aubrey Bledsoe of Washington Spirit blocks a penalty kick at Zions Bank Stadium on July 18, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. Photo by Rob Gray/ISI Photos.

However, Spirit defender Sam Staab fired her shot over the crossbar, keeping the score tied at 2-2. After another round of converted penalties, Elizabeth Eddy scored for the New Jersey-based side, putting on the pressure on Feist to score to send the game to sudden death.

However, the midfielder’s right-footed attempt was safely handled by Sheridan, eliminating the Spirit.

“We didn’t lose today; we lost in a penalty shootout,” Burke said. “We didn’t lose a game. We dominated it, and one of the things we need to take from this tournament is, and the take away from a lot of [this] game is a little bit more danger.”

Going forward, the Spirit will use the tournament to springboard them as one of the elite teams in the NWSL. Burke said he was proud of the growth all the team’s draft picks made, becoming talented role players to their possessive-based attack. He expects all the players to feel prideful about their success as they transition to the next part of their season.

“We’re a young team.,” Bledsoe said. “I know we’ll bounce back. Hopefully, the offseason isn’t too long this year. We’ve got lots of growth ahead for us.”

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.

Spirit, Captials set to play soon amid pandemic

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – The Washington Spirit and the Washington Capitals are the first two professional sports teams (representing the metropolitan region) preparing to restart their seasons as their respective leagues announce their plans following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most notable of the two is the Spirit as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced a 25-game tournament called the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.

It will take place between June 27-July 26 with all of the matches taking place in Utah. Fans will not be allowed to attend games, but can watch them via CBS All Access with the opening and championship games airing on CBS.

Barring changes in the schedule, the NWSL would become the first U.S. professional team sports league to return following the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams were starting their preseasons when cities were forced to shut down and implement social distancing rules.

“As our country begins to reopen and adjust to our collective new reality safely, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” Commissioner Lisa Baird said.

Washington Spirit Owner Steve Baldwin said on the “Catch the Spirit” podcast on May 26 that Utah’s experience of hosting large-scale events, like the 2000 Winter Olympics, and the facilities being provided by the Utah Royals ownership made the tournament possible.

“We considered playing full league seasons at various junctures,” Baldwin said. “As things progressed and we saw what the situation was going to be in terms of being able to bring fans into games in the near terms and things like that, we settled around this tournament concept that we are very excited about.”

The Spirit finished the 2019 season in fifth place (34 points), four points outside a playoff spot. Washington traded U.S. Women’s National Team striker Mallory Pugh for three draft picks, including the No. 4 pick during the 2020 NWSL Draft in January.

However, they were able to re-sign team captain Andy Sullivan and 2019 National Women’s Soccer League Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe. The Spirit also expects the return of midfielder Rose Lavelle, who was named to the 2019 FIFA FIFPro World XI following her World Cup performance for the U.S. last year.

Meanwhile, the NHL announced its return on the ice by announcing the end of the regular season and starting an expanded playoff format with 24 teams, 12 for each conference.

The top four seeds based on point percentage will play a round-robin playoff for conference seeding while the remaining eight teams will face off in a best of five “play-in” round.

The playoffs will take place in two “hub cities” where each conference will play their playoff games. Cities in the running include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

No set date has been announced, but Commissioner Gary Bettman said on May 26 that it’s conceivable to play games at the end of July or early August.

“We are hopeful the Return To Play Plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount,” Bettman said.

Once teams are allowed back into their facilities, practices will be limited, including a maximum of six players on the ice at a time, no contact, and no coaches for voluntary workouts. There would be a rigorous schedule of COVID-19 testing to ensure player safety, Bettman said.

The Capitals (41-20-8, 90 points) finish the regular season one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, clinching their fifth-straight Metropolitan Division title and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will have a first-round bye and play for seeding in the new playoff structure.

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

Lavelle scores as USWNT advances to final, qualify for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Washington Spirit

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rose Lavelle played 76 minutes before exiting for Lindsay Horan, completing 44 passes and adding a steal to go with her goal. The midfielder’s opening goal proved to be the decider in the match as the U.S. kept its fourth clean sheet of the tournament, continuing a perfect defensive record. Lavelle has now scored 12 international goals in 41 appearances. 

With the win, the USWNT both advanced to the finals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament and secured their spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The USWNT will take on Canada in the final on Sunday at 6 pm ET (FS2, TUDN). 

This marks the seventh consecutive time that the USWNT have qualified for the Olympics. The US is sporting a record of 22-0-1 all-time in Olympic Qualifying and has scored 118 goals while allowing three. The US is also unbeaten in their last 27 games heading into the final.