By Joe Dougherty
It was a Carolina reunion last Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
There was North Carolina head women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, talking it up with one of his former players, Allie Long, now a center midfielder for the Washington Freedom.
And over there was former Tar Heel Cat Whitehill – a center back for the Freedom – chatting it up with a current Carolina player. Near them was Carin Gabarra, the U.S. National Team star under Dorrance and who now serves as the Navy women’s soccer coach.
And scattered around the center of the field was a group of Tar Heels mixing it up with various Freedom players.
If you had just arrived, you would not have known that the Freedom had just delivered a young North Carolina team to a rather long clinic, in the form of a 5-0 loss for the visitors who were just happy to have had the experience to play the Women’s Professional Soccer club.
“We’ve played a lot of pro teams, but they looked great,” said a tired Meghan Klingenberg, a former high school All-America and now a rising senior midfielder at North Carolina. “They have a great attack with Abby [Wambach] and Sonia [Bompastor], and Cat was on point the whole game in the back. But we’re here trying to improve, and this will help us do that.”
Dorrance agreed with his star midfielder’s analysis.
“We didn’t have any illusions,” said Dorrance, whose team captured his 21st national championship last fall. “We got a wonderful soccer clinic from the Freedom, and we didn’t even have to pay for it.”
Washington opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a Jill Gilbeau goal off of a Sonia Bompastor cross, and never looked back. Abby Wambach scored two first-half goals – a signature header from 10 yards off a Bompastor corner kick and a gorgeous first-time volley from 12 yards from Sarah Huffman’s well-placed service from deep along the right side.
“That’s a world class goal from a world class scorer,” said Dorrance.
Midfielder Becky Sauerbrunn scored off another Bompastor corner kick in the 52nd minute, and reserve midfielder Alex Singer completed the scoring with a 12-yard shot that slipped past goalkeeper Monica Welsh-Loveman.
The Tar Heels, well known for their high-pressure defense and relentless attack, were unable to put the Freedom on their heels very often. Indeed, Washington’s ball movement looked surprisingly crisp, given that Wambach, Whitehill and several other players did not report to the team until two days earlier.
“High pressure is always going to be tough,” Klingenberg said. “When we did get the pressure we had some success. But they were very crafty and technical in the back. They could handle it.”
“We couldn’t high pressure them [often],” Dorrance said. “They moved the ball too quickly.”
“This is a confidence builder for us as we begin the season,” said Wambach, who three days earlier played in five inches of snow in Salt Lake City when the National Team defeated Mexico in a friendly, 1-0, on her 61st minute goal. “We know UNC lost a bunch of players and that they’re rebuilding.”
But she cautioned that her side won’t take too much confidence from the win.
“At the end of the day, you can only measure yourself up against WPS teams,” she said.
“It was quite fun for us,” Gabarra said. “We got to play against the best college program in the country. When you play them, you know what you’re going to get – a 3-4-3 and high pressure. It was good for us.”
For Dorrance, whose team fell to the new Philadelphia Independence, 2-0, earlier in the spring, Saturday’s game gives him much-needed information to help his team – which will welcome eight incoming freshman – in the fall.
“We taped the game and we’ll go back and look at it and see what we can learn,” Dorrance said. “We’re glad that Jim [Gabarra] played us. This helped us more than it helped them. For us, this is fantastic.”