A good feeling came over Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra as he drove up to the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds for Saturday’s women’s professional soccer game against the Washington Spirit, he said.
The former longtime Washington Freedom coach has certainly spent a lot of time at the facility.
“It was nice driving up. It’s a state of the art facility. I’ve had a lot of good memories [at the SoccerPlex],” Gabarra said.
He added another one Saturday as his team based out of New Jersey/New York squashed the Spirit’s chances of ending the weekend atop the National Women’s Soccer League standings with a 2-1 victory.
Washington (0-1-2) was in fourth place with two points heading into Saturday’s contest, one point behind the third-place Sky Blue (2-0-0). FC Kansas and Portland Thorns FC were tied for first with four points.
“Something we talked about before the game was not wanting to start off flat,” Gabarra said.
The Sky Blue didn’t. In either half.
New Jersey/New York scored in the second minute of the first half and the third minute of second half to put Washington on its heels.
Washington rebounded well from both scores but was unable to generate as many chances in the final third as coach Mike Jorden said he would have liked.
Sky Blue outshot Washington, 17-8, Saturday. Seven of the New Jersey/New York team’s shots were on target.
Jorden said he would like to see the Spirit play quicker in the box. In the second half Washington did a better job slowing the pace to get more numbers up top.
“We’re still learning ways to go and attack, whether it’s changing our shape or our style, we need to create more chances,” Jorden said.
But both coaches as well as Spirit midfielder Diana Matheson, who scored Washington’s only goal Saturday, agreed the fledgling league’s teams are still coming together and finding their identities.
“Our communication is getting better every game. We’re getting partnerships. It’s understanding and knowing what a player is going to do before they do it,” Matheson said.
Washington had a lot to contend with Saturday. Sky Blue’s physicality coupled with forward Lisa De Vanna’s remarkable speed helped them control possession more often than Washington. And the Spirit struggled to get past U.S. Women’s National Team defender Christie Rampone.
Sky Blue Defender Courtney Goodson scored the team’s first goal in the second minute off a corner kick from forward Danesha Adams.
Matheson tied the game at 1-1 in the 35th minute off a cross from midfielder Lori Lindsey. But much like the first, New York/New Jersey struck early in second half to take the lead for good when Sophie Schmidt finished a great De Vanna pass from the goal line.
Walter Johnson’s all-time leading scorer, Caroline Miller, came off the bench midway through the second half to give Washington a spark. She nearly evened the score in the 80th minute on a great shot toward the right post but Sky Blue goalie Brittany Cameron made a diving grab.
“Caroline came on and changed the game. She has learned the pro game in the last six weeks. You’ve got to play both sides of the ball. I think [Saturday] she showed her tenacity and that she is obviously a dangerous player,” Jorden said.
Washington will face another tough test next Saturday when they play host to the Thorns, led by U.S. Women’s National Team star Alex Morgan and Canadian star Christine Sinclair.
“Every game is going to be hard. It’s great we have eight teams but there are so many good players, you have to just look at one game at a time. The bright spot on our end is the team has gotten a little bit better each week. And they have the heart, they’re going to fight,” Jorden said.