It goes without saying professional athletes never want to lose, but when placed in a tough situation sometimes there can be no alternative. The Washington Spirit weren’t getting the results they wanted the players coaches and staff remained positive. They were building something, a foundation for 2014.
“I think we’ll be a different team next year,” Spirit defender Robin Gayle said. “We have a bit of a foundation built from last year and we’re looking to continue to build on that.”
The 28-year-old defender found herself on a new team but had a few familiar faces around, in Canadian Women’s National team teammates Candace Chapman and Diana Matheson.
Gayle recalls the beginning of the season when she and Matheson had the task of building chemistry with their new teammates.
“It was tricky at first because Diana and I were in and out with national team commitments and so were the U.S. players,” Gayle said. “I think after a couple months we built some chemistry and then once Mark Parsons came on the scene it helped develop the bonds a lot quicker as well.”
When Mark Parsons took over as the Spirit’s head coach on July 1, he inherited a last place club. Mike Jorden had led the club to a 1-7-2 record and was replaced by Parsons. With poor team results, the players had to face the realization that they were out of playoff contention.
“It was a bit challenging and frustrating for all of us because most of us come from a winning background,” Gayle said. “When we were no longer in contention for the playoffs then it became focusing on what we could do to get ready for next year starting with building our base for 2014. It was definitely a new challenge but it was an opportunity for us to grow in different areas as well.”
Gayle credits Parsons for building a foundation for the future.
“Once Mark came on board, we started to set in place some good stuff.”
It was clear the new coach had an immediate impact on the Spirit. “His arrival helped bring in more structure on the field and a bit more guidance for us,” Gayle said.
As the season progressed, the team dealt with injuries, especially to their back line. In a notable July 28 game against the Boston Breakers, Parsons assembled a starting back line consisting of two defenders Candace Chapman and Kika Toulouse, midfielder Tori Huster and forward Lindsay Taylor. Starting defenders Alex Krieger, Toni Pressley and Gayle were out with injuries. In the 2nd minute, Chapman suffered a knee sprain and was subbed off for midfielder Holly King leaving just one natural defender on the field.
The following week the team signed defender Marisa Abegg.
“We had a couple injuries but I don’t think we had more than any of the other teams,” Gayle said. “I think I wouldn’t place any of the focus on injury as the cause of our results but we did have our fair share.”
Injuries, however, were a talking point of their season. The Spirit defenders played 67 out of a possible 106 games and Gayle missed nine games due to injury.
“I think we did well to make do and if anything we had quite a bit of depth in the defensive line so we were able to manage,” Gayle said.
Even after the team was reinvigorated with Mark Parsons’ arrival, they still weren’t getting the results they wanted. Washington finished at the bottom of the league, playing in a situation that could have brought down the morale and spirits of the players, but nonetheless did not.
“As a team it was kind of interesting and unique that we didn’t really dwell on the results to much,” Gayle said. “We did a really good job of focusing on every game as a new opportunity but it was definitely a challenge to come out of a season with not too many points.
Their last three games were proof the team wanted to close out the season on a high note and get ready for next year. Closing out the season on a three game home stand, Washington went unbeaten with back-to-back, 1-0 victories over the Chicago Red Stars and Seattle Reign FC. The team finished the season with a 1-1 draw against playoff bound Sky Blue FC.
“I don’t know if playoffs are what Mark has outlined for us next season but for me at least that’s definitely what I want to do,” Gayle said. “We’d definitely love to make it into the playoffs and then once you’re in, anything can happen.”