It’s hard to be the Washington Spirit currently. They haven’t won a match on the road all season, they can’t seem to find their rhythm, and they are currently sitting at the bottom of the table. So their matches aren’t much of a competition, right?
Wrong. The Washington Spirit are a lot better than the statistics and their record give them credit for. They have the talent and the skillset to shake up the top of the table, and they absolutely have the power to bring down the giants of the league. Here are the five reasons they can:
Obviously, 19-year-old Mallory Pugh is at the top of this list. The U.S. Women’s National Team player is an amazing playmaker on and off ball, and she is someone that every team has to prepare to play against. Her ball handling has the ability to slice through backlines, and her stutter step is quite possibly the best in the league – she’s stagnant one moment, and ten feet behind you the next. But the other reason that Mallory Pugh creates what can seem like insurmountable problems for other teams is that she draws attention to herself. And with that attention comes defenders. When she is inside the box she regularly pulls multiple opponents to combat her threat, which creates open spaces for other players, such as Estefania Banini, to slip in and make a game-changing play. So what is a back line left to do? Make a hard choice.
The Spirit has an offensive style that has the potential to do a lot of damage if they can begin to capitalize on their scoring chances. It is the quick movement through short, one-touch passes that doesn’t seem to be too hard to handle at first, but throughout the game can become very tiring for backlines. This team doesn’t necessarily always look to make large cross-field passes, but instead builds their offense up, working in triangles to create shifts within the defense. As the game wears on these movements don’t seem too threatening, but as legs begin to get tired and sluggish, more space gets created and more chances begin to present themselves for the Spirit. It is the kind of offensive style that forces a lot of focus from the defense in order to continue to close out attackers around the box. It’s also the type of offense that can bring down an opposing team rather quickly when it is working effectively.
The Washington Spirit have an amazing goalkeeper in Stephanie Labbé. In fact, she might be the best technical goalkeeper in the game right now. Sure, she doesn’t have the flash of an Adrianna Franch or a Kailen Sheridan, but she is a steady keeper. And she makes amazing saves. She is pretty much a staple for NWSL Save of the Week nominees. But a lot of time the Canadian National Team player isn’t given the credit she deserves for the work she puts in. And part of that is because she is so good at her job – she makes it look easy. And she isn’t loud or overbearing. She doesn’t scream at her backline or let her emotions get the better of her. She keeps Washington in the game, even when they are losing. Her abilities in goal have helped to keep the Spirit competitive, and for that reason alone, the opposing team can never count on a win when facing them.
They’re Camping Out at the Bottom of the Table
Soccer can be just as much a mental game as it is a physical one. And that is why having the Washington Spirit sitting at the bottom of the table could be the cause of broken hearts at the top of it. Because when you are the worst team in the league there will always be a team that underestimates you. But, with the exception of their 6-2 loss to the Seattle Reign in May, the Spirit’s losses haven’t been blowouts. In fact, every other loss has only been by a single goal. That’s only one conversion of a shot on target. Those aren’t huge losses. But to look at their record, a team wouldn’t think that. Some teams may even think they had it in the bag. So they relax….and then they lose. Because the Spirit aren’t a bad team. Not by a long shot. They have just had some unlucky breaks and need some polishing on their finishes. So this is my warning to the top of the table – don’t sit back on the Spirit.
They’ve Already Done It
Let’s look at some of the giants they have already slain this season. How about the Portland Thorns? That team is made of superstars and the Washington Spirit scored early and held them off the rest of the match. Their game against Sky Blue FC was a hard-fought 4-3 victory where the Spirit never gave up their lead. Or how about the fact that they tied the Red Stars? I would argue that Chicago is the strongest team in the league currently, and they couldn’t even find a way to beat the Spirit. Couple that with two more draws against the Orlando Pride, which are definitely on the climb with Alex Morgan back from Lyon, and you have a pretty solid showing from the Washington Spirit against some pretty big rosters.
So, yes, the Washington Spirit may be hanging out near the bottom of the table, but that does not mean that they are meant to be there. They are by no means a team to pity or a team to undervalue. They have a lot of advantages going their way and they are a team that will find their pace and rhythm. So don’t count them out before they even take the field. They are not a team to joke about or write off.
They are a team to fear.