Standout rookie Croix Bethune is making all the difference for Washington – Equalizer Soccer

    Photo Copyright Amber Searls for USA TODAY Sports

    The Washington Spirit are off to a soaring start. After dropping their season opener in Seattle, they’ve gone on to decisively win four straight games. That includes Saturday’s 2-0 defeat over NJ/NY Gotham FC, the reigning NWSL champions. The strong stretch for the Spirit comes as somewhat of a surprise to fans who have followed the team for the past few years.

    After winning the NWSL championship in 2021, the Spirit endured two lackluster seasons, finishing in 11th place in 2022 and eighth place in 2023. But so far in 2024 — what was supposed to be a rebuilding year with an interim coach — the Spirit are sitting in second place, thanks to on-field leadership from the likes of Trinity Rodman and Casey Krueger, and a coaching style from interim head coach Adrian Gonzalez that seems to be working. But, perhaps most significantly, the difference-maker for the Spirit is its rookie class. 

    And speaking of rookies, we need to talk about Croix Bethune. The midfielder, who was selected by the Spirit third in the 2024 NWSL Draft, scored Saturday’s first goal and catalyzed the second. In the 41st minute, after various attempts at goals in collaboration with Rodman, Bethune found the back of the net. Her goal, a shooting star from far outside the box that landed in the top-left corner, was the type of goal players dream of scoring. It was Bethune’s third in her last four games, making her one of only three Spirit players in the club’s history to score three goals in her first five appearances. 

    The Spirit ended the first half on top by one, and their lead doubled when Ashley Hatch scored a penalty kick in the 69th minute. The impetus for the penalty kick? A shot on goal — intercepted by the hand off Gotham’s Samantha Hiatt — that was launched, once again, by Bethune. The rookie, now tied for highest scorer in the NWSL this season, has proved herself to be a game-changer for the Spirit. 

    What is it exactly that makes Bethune so good? For starters, she’s a smart soccer player. “I think she’s very intelligent,” Gonzalez said in his postgame press conference. He acknowledged Bethune’s strength in seeing the field and identifying gaps in the opposing team’s defense where she can get tricky and creative. Rodman echoed Gonzalez’s sentiments. “She sees the game,” Rodman said. “Having midfielders who have the confidence to hold the ball and see things is really important.” 

    Bethune is clearly aware of the extent to which her teammates acknowledge her talent and trust her with the ball. And, frankly, she likes scoring. “If there’s opportunities, I’m going to take them, and they’re going in,” she said after the game.

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    Going forward, fans can expect the Spirit to continue using Bethune as much as possible, as well as fellow rookie Hal Hershfelt, who is also off to a strong season. Additionally, the partnership between Bethune and Krueger seems to be working well, as evidenced by Krueger’s assist for Bethune’s goal. 

    Due largely to Bethune and other rookies, but also to general team unity, the Spirit are looking to continue riding the high of their unexpectedly strong start. But according to Gonzalez, fans haven’t yet seen the success that the Spirit can amount to this year. “I’m going to push them every day because they want to be better and they want to improve,” Gonzalez said.

    The Spirit not only sit on a four-game winning streak, but also hosted their fourth-largest crowd in club history at Sunday’s game. So whether you’re a successful rookie, a proud veteran teammate, a gleeful coach or an enthusiastic fan, one thing’s for sure — it feels pretty darn good to be a member of the greater Washington Spirit community right now.

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