In this weekly series, I will be highlighting a player from the weekend who was their respective team’s unsung hero, win or lose. A player who does the dirty work, does the little but important things in a game and someone who didn’t exactly fill up the stat sheet but found other ways to contribute.
This week I’ve chosen Washington Spirit midfielder Havana Solaun.
The 24-year-old is in her third year in the league and with her second team after being drafted 15th overall in 2015 to the Seattle Reign out of the University of Florida. She sat out with an injury all of 2015, and in 2016 she appeared in six games for the Reign. Solaun’s player rights were traded to Washington in November of 2016 and in return, Seattle received midfielder Christine Nairn and goalkeeper Madalyn Schiffel. Fast forward to 10 games into the 2017 season; she is finding her place in Washington, appearing in every game thus far, adding three goals and one assist to her name.
Washington 1-0 Portland
Due to veteran Tori Huster making her way back into the starting 11, Solaun was asked to be more of a threat offensively, with Gabarra putting her up top to give her the right opportunities to go toward goal. I was going to discuss all-things-Huster this week but my fellow Backline writer Charles Olney beat me to it and published a fantastic piece for you all to enjoy. Instead, I’ll focus on what Solaun was allowed to do with Huster back in the line-up.
Solaun has been a steady contributor so far this season as I mentioned above, and this game was no different. Washington’s first quality chance came in the ninth minute when Solaun snuck behind her defender for a looping ball that was sent to the left side of the box. She shook the Thorn’s player enough to get a foot of space and lifted a shot on goal but right at Portland’s keeper Adrianna Franch. Franch gave up a rebound right in front of the goal, bouncing to Williams who was lurking around the six-yard box but Emily Menges cleared it just in time.
It was a clever run on the back post by Solaun, getting in over the defense in the blink of an eye and managing a shot even at the tough angle. She created something that was promising and likely, should’ve resulted in a goal. Nonetheless, moving her up top for this game was already paying off for the Spirit.
A few months after Seattle drafted Solaun in 2015, Laura Harvey–head coach of the Reign–said that a player like Solaun is comfortable with possession, a young talent who can play numerous positions and is technically very good. Solaun has shown that now playing for Washington and head coach Jim Gabarra had this to say when he acquired her last year: “Havana will give us a creative element in attack and we believe she has the ability to impact games.”
Both coaches knew what they were getting when Solaun suited up for them, but she has really taken her game to a new level for the Spirit.
Solaun showcased just what they were talking about in the 22nd minute against Portland. She received a pass from Meggie Dougherty Howard about 20 yards out, giving the crowd of 4,319 some twinkle toe action to get rid of Portland’s Celeste Boureille, then rifled a low shot past Franch. I thought it was going in, but the keeper’s best friend came to the rescue as Solaun’s shot hit off the post and was cleared away by the recovering Boureille. It was a stunning effort on goal. It’s a shame it didn’t go in.
That’s the type of play Solaun is capable of, and she was firing on all cylinders to attempt that play. She easily won her one-on-one battle, tested the keeper and almost gave Washington a two-goal lead without any significant buildup. Solaun had a great look and just narrowly missed what would’ve been her fourth goal of the season.
On the other side of halftime in the 50th minute, Solaun was oozing confidence on the ball, with a little shake ‘n bake in Portland’s end to give herself some space. The final pass into Kristie Mewis deflected off a Thorn but Solaun once again created something out of nothing for the Spirit. Instead of kicking it off her defenders’ shins and opting for a simple throw-in, she decided to take on her defender and take a chance on herself.
Later on, in the 75th minute, Solaun and Dougherty Howard, both former Florida Gators, linked up again on a smooth takeover just past midfield. Thanks to the quick thinking of Solaun, that allowed some space for Dougherty Howard to operate going forward while at the same time not slowing the play down. In turn, Doughtery Howard found Williams streaking into the 18, but a tough defensive play by Emily Sonnett shut down that opportunity.
With the 1-0 win over a slumping Portland, Washington are now unbeaten in three. They are currently sitting in eighth place with an improving record of 3-5-2, good for 11 points. Solaun is on track to have a breakout year and if she continues to put in this kind of effort, it might not be too bleak for Washington by the end of the year.