Washington Spirit ready to put revamped roster to the test

The Washington Spirit addressed a rough inaugural season in the National Women’s Soccer League by drafting a player whom the coach says is “breathtaking to watch.” It upgraded the attack with capable scorers, alleviated pressure on the playmaker by signing a well-traveled midfielder and added depth at most every position.

In all, a year after winning one of the first 19 matches and finishing last with an overmatched squad, the Spirit believes it has the makings of a competitive crew.

“We’re itching to get started,” Coach Mark Parsons said. “We’re tired of kicking the heck out of each other. We want to get out and play, see what we’re about.”

The renovated club will debut at 4 p.m. Sunday against Abby Wambach and the 2013 runner-up Western New York Flash at Maryland SoccerPlex. A crowd of about 3,000 is expected.

Seeking stability after the failure of two previous pro women’s soccer initiatives, the NWSL has returned with all eight original clubs as well as the expansion Houston Dash. Each team will play 24 games through mid-August. The Spirit is home for six of the first nine matches.

Washington was one of the league’s stronger markets last year – except on the field.

“We lost our way, and once that happens, it’s tough to get it back,” midfielder Lori Lindsey said of a 3-14-5 debut. “We demanded so much from rookies last year, and it can be hard to make that jump from college. We now have a better mix.”

The attack will again center around Canadian national team midfielder Diana Matheson, who, with eight goals and three assists last year, had a role in all but five of the club’s 16 goals. With the additions of American midfielders Yael Averbuch (Russian and Swedish leagues) and Christine Nairn (Annapolis) and forwards Jodie Taylor (England) and Ranae Cuellar (Mexico), Matheson will not have to carry the burden.

The prize acquisition: Crystal Dunn, the first overall pick in the college draft. A regular with the top-ranked U.S. national team while starring at the University of North Carolina, Dunn will add blazing speed and clever footwork to the right flank. Slowed by an ankle injury, Dunn will not hit her stride for another month, Parsons said.

“She is one of the most exciting male or female players I’ve had my eyes on,” the English-born coach said. “She beats people at full speed and the ball doesn’t leave her foot. She is going to be a player that can win us games.”

Dunn will combine on the wing with Ali Krieger, the U.S. national team right back in her second season with the Spirit. Ashlyn Harris, who is in the U.S. player pool, returns as the top-choice goalkeeper. Defender Cecile Sandvej arrived from the Danish national team.

“By funneling in more experienced players, we are going to be good and more competitive,” said Krieger, a 2003 Forest Park High graduate. “Last year we were relying on inexperienced players. This year we have a good corps of leaders all over the field.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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