The Washington Spirit took its first win in team history on May 16, beating the Seattle Reign in a bottom-of-the-table National Women's Soccer League clash.
Seattle suffered four more consecutive losses after that. But with a few tweaks and the additions of Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, the Reign bounced back with a five-game unbeaten run, including its first three wins.
On its way up out of the basement, the Reign passed a Spirit team that has been in free fall since that meeting in May. In its last eight games, the Spirit has one draw and seven losses, scoring one goal from the penalty spot and none from the run of play. The two teams meet again Sunday ( live, FOX Soccer, 8:30 p.m. ET ) in Seattle in the first NWSL game on national television.
"It's an important step for the league," Seattle coach Laura Harvey said. "It's great that the first game is at our stadium. From a club point of view, we're excited about it. From a team and a player point of view, we've just got to make sure that we concentrate on the game."
Both teams could use the shot of adrenaline that a TV audience will bring. Seattle played Thursday night against Western New York, winning a 3-2 barnburner. Washington is finishing a brutal run of five games in 17 days, several of them in the hot, sticky air that has gripped the east coast.
That stretch started with a 4-0 loss to Western New York that turned out to be the last game in charge for coach Mike Jorden. The Spirit replaced him with Mark Parsons, who had been coaching the Spirit's reserve side in the W-League.
Like Harvey, Parsons is an English coach with experience at a big London club -- Harvey with Arsenal , Parsons with Chelsea .
"I remember Mark from Chelsea days," Harvey said. "I can't remember how many games we actually played against each other, but I remember him being part of their coaching staff. I think it's great. The English coaches have got a great tradition of producing good teams."
Parsons and Spirit players say they are looking for a fresh start. But they've had little time to work on it. A 1-1 draw with Kansas City broke the team's scoreless streaks, but all they've experienced since then are losses, travel and mistakes brought about by fatigue.
"We're feeling a little tired, and we've had a long road," Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said after Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Chicago. "These little tiny mistakes here and there, mental mistakes, cost us the game."
The Spirit's defensive lapses have decreased since the arrival of Toni Pressley and the return to health of Candace Chapman. With that duo in central defense, Parsons has experimented with moving Ali Krieger, a right back with the United States nationals, into midfield.
But Washington has yet to find a reliable scorer, even with the arrival of Conny Pohlers, fresh from a sensational season with European champion Wolfsburg. With so many games compressed into the Spirit's schedule, the team has little time to build attacking chemistry on the training ground.
"(The schedule has) been very physically taxing on us, as you can imagine," Spirit attacker Stephanie Ochs said. "But that's been a frustrating part, too -- we don't have time to practice that extra stuff."
Yet Harvey knows she's facing a dangerous player in Pohlers.
"She played against teams I managed before," Harvey said. "She's got fantastic experience. She was a player we were interested in ourselves. It'll be interesting to see how she manages this league - it's not what she's used to in Germany, but I'm sure she'll do well."
The Reign's reinforcements arrived earlier. Solo returned from injury and has saved 47 of 55 shots on goal in seven games -- three of the goals she has conceded have come from penalty kicks. Rapinoe returned from France's Lyon to inspire the Reign offense, scoring twice in her first five games.
"Hope and Megan have been a big part of that (improvement), but credit to the rest of the players," Harvey said. "They made sure they stuck to what we believe in and the way we want to play. Now, finally, they're starting to see the results match what we believe were good performances at the start of the season."
The Spirit has not yet turned that corner. But the two teams aren't too different. Both teams have national team goalkeepers, and energetic midfielders with distinctive blonde hair (Washington's Lori Lindsey, Seattle's lookalikes Rapinoe and Jessica Fishlock), and neither team has recorded a shutout this season.
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"I think there's a lot of similarities between ourselves and Washington," Harvey said. "Both teams try to play, try to get the ball down and play attractive football. They've just been missing that final end product of scoring goals. But we saw when they came and played us in Seattle - give them half a chance, and they can turn those chances into goals."
That game may seem like ancient history. But the Spirit isn't interested in looking backwards, not even a few days.
"As far as I'm concerned, this game's done and it's time to move forward," Harris said a few minutes after Wednesday's game. "We have a big game coming up and it's a television game. We're trying to get as many watching this sport and growing this sport, and we've got to be better than we were today."
Parsons has preached patience with his team, which played pretty well last week against FC Kansas City and Sky Blue but came up with just one goal and one point to show for it.
"Within that group, we're still very positive and very strong and can't wait for Sunday, which we know is a big one for the league and a big one for us," Parsons said.