The Washington Spirit have played two games so far this NWSL season, which may seem much too early for any sort of analysis. However, there was a lot of intrigue about the Spirit in the offseason regarding just how much their style and personnel would be tweaked, or altogether changed, under new head coach Mark Parsons.
Through two, they’re 1-1-0 with three goals scored and two conceded. It’s obviously early, but three goals from a team which underwent significant roster reconstruction (including shifting a forward to center back and starting an undrafted rookie in midfield) is better output than seven teams in the league.
So let’s take a look to see if any themes are starting to be revealed.
Washington Spirit 1-0 OL Reign (Trinity Rodman, 54′)
First of all, this goal was sick. On the surface, this goal is as simple as an outrageous player doing an outrageous thing, and while it is that, some other things helped along the way.
First, the Spirit’s throw-in came from a misplaced free kick that was awarded to OL Reign when Sam Staab was whistled for a foul while jockeying with Jordyn Huitema. For some reason, Reign attempted a long switch but no one was home at the other end so the ball bounced out of play. Thanks Reign!
From there, things get even more interesting. Former Spirit center back Emily Sonnett was Seattle’s defensive midfielder on the day and played a part in ceding Rodman the space she needed to do Rodman things. Sonnett has played fullback, center back and defensive midfield in her career (sometimes week to week), and perhaps the downside of versatility is that it can interfere with a players’ instincts.
In this instance, Sonnett gets sucked into defending a fullback area, leaving the center of the pitch open. In the top image, Metayer (circled in red) is beginning a trot up the line to get closer to Dorian Bailey (circled in yellow) for the throw-in.
The bottom image reveals the effect. Rodman (red, far left) has her defender pinned on her back while Metayer (red, central) is being watched by two Reign players, even as the ball (yellow) is midway to Rodman. Fortunately for the Spirit, one of those players is their defensive midfielder, who is far from home as the ball enters play.
Metayer didn’t move with a ton of intentionality, but enough to attract the attention of two Reign players gambling to win the ball back in a good area. But it made Bailey’s decision easy, and Rodman did the rest.
Racing Louisville 0-1 Washington Spirit (Ashley Hatch, 16′)
Both goals versus Louisville were solid examples of principles Parsons has stated he’s trying to build. For this one, Ashley Hatch plays off the shoulder and in between center backs, something she’s adept at doing.
All the stat sites have credited Dorian Bailey for this assist but your resident Spirit coverer is here to tell you that they sit on a throne of lies. This is Paige Metayer’s assist, the first of her pro career.
A sequence before this, Metayer attempted to connect with Hatch over a longer distance but Hatch was called for a foul while attempting to round the defender to get to the ball. Louisville then turns the ball over after the free kick from the foul, and Tara McKeown (now a center back) ended up with the ball at her feet striding into midfield.
Rather than force a forward pass, McKeown plays a safe lateral pass to Metayer, who was now much higher up the pitch. In the top image, you can see the defense narrowing to cut off McKeown’s run (yellow), leaving Metayer (red) a lot of space to receive a pass. Hatch (orange) is also in an unassuming position, and seemingly well-marked by two Louisville defenders.
The bottom image shows how quickly an unassuming position can become dangerous. McKeown notices the space (pink) ahead of Metayer (red) and invites her to play into it by not passing the ball (yellow) to her feet, but slightly in front. Now Metayer, who had just tried to find Hatch a moment ago, has the ball in space with Hatch (orange) making a curved run in front of one defender and behind another.
Metayer’s lofted pass gets just above the head of a defender and drops perfectly to Hatch, and her finishing instincts take over. Instead of controlling the ball and trying to fight off a defender to dribble toward goal, Hatch settles the ball with one touch then pushes it on in the box. The second touch allows her to glide by the center back, leaves goalkeeper Katie Lund stranded, and gives her the time she needs to pick her spot.
The two touches by Hatch are exceptional, and why she’s been the Spirit’s leading scorer since 2018.
Racing Louisville 0-2 Washington Spirit (Ashley Hatch, 32′)
Sixteen minutes after scoring in the sixteenth minute Hatch had the ball in the back of the net again. This time it was Rodman with the assist in what looked like a copy/paste of the goal above.
This sequence begins with Louisville punting the ball into the sky in an attempt to clear danger after a corner kick taken by Staab. As they scrambled to push out of their own area, Gabrielle Carle heads the ball into the ground and back towards their goal. It spins by Bailey, who might’ve gotten a flick, before it settles in front of Rodman.
Rodman quickly turns and locks onto Hatch, who’s making the same run between defenders, only this time the post corner scramble and quick turnover left forward Uchenna Kanu as one of those defenders. From here it’s the Rodman and Hatch show.
The top two images show Rodman turning and locking onto Hatch’s position (1), then the initial strike of the ball for her assist (2). The bottom two reveal the ball landing just in front of Hatch (3), then the effect of another deft touch from Hatch that sets her up 1v1 with the goalkeeper again (4).
Rodman’s vision and technique are the standout stars in this goal. When she makes contact with the ball, Hatch is a yard or two behind her defender and closer to midfield than the box. But Rodman placed the ball perfectly, giving Hatch time to win the foot race with the reward being possession of the ball at the top of the box with only the goalkeeper to beat.
So, what can we learn from these three goals? Straightaway we can see that players are getting into much better positions to take advantage of their talents, specifically Hatch, which bodes well for the ability to replicate some of these moments. However, two of these goals came from some fairly basic defensive errors, and as teams progress throughout the season those errors will lessen.
The good news is that the Spirit aren’t done developing either. These three goals show flashes of new ideas in the teamt, and it will be fun to see what else gets revealed in the coming weeks.