With the sun setting in San Diego, California, on Nov. 10, Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury had enough of the shenanigans.
At the first-ever Skills Challenge event by the National Women’s Soccer League, Kingsbury watched as event ‘officials’ lost count of the score to help the opposing Western conference team catch up during the crossbar event.
As soon as the opposition officially tied the proceedings, Kingsbury called the game: launching an over-40-yard blast toward the goal post. Once the ball clanged off the post and smacked the pitch, the rest of the Eastern Conference team erupted into celebration around the goalkeeper.
“I came to win, so that was very gratifying,” Kingsbury said. “Especially after they lost count, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll show them. Time to end this right now.'”
The Spirit’s captain was the star of the Skills Challenge, stopping three of four shooters in the shootout challenge before capping off the event with the game-winning shot in the crossbar challenge. The two-time Goalkeeper of the Year shared her thoughts on the event with WTOP and what she would like to see in its future.
The friendly competition kicked off a set of events leading up to the NWSL championship match on Nov. 11, where two key assists from Silver Spring, Maryland, native Midge Purce helped lead Gotham FC to earn its first league title with a 2-1 victory over OL Reign.
Participating in the showcase was not on Kingsbury’s mind after Washington’s season ended. She told WTOP her offseason plans were to rest up and train after an intense 2023, which included her traveling to Australia and New Zealand as a member of the U.S. women’s national team during the Women’s World Cup.
Yet, a week before the skills challenge, her agent reached out about the opportunity, and once Kingsbury found out about the type of skills games being featured, she jumped at the chance. The competition had three events: a shootout, two-on-two Teqball (soccer table tennis) and a crossbar challenge, with the winning team taking home a $25,000 prize to be split among the players.
“The shootout? That’s my bread and butter with breakaways, and [the] crossbar challenge, I love to play,” Kingsbury said. “I play often with the other keepers, so I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to win.'”
Over 500 fans attended the free event, which took place at Surf Sports Park in Del Mar. Each team sent one player, with several of the league’s stars electing to participate, including Kansas City Current midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta, former Portland Thorns defender Crystal Dunn and San Diego Wave FC forward Jaedyn Shaw.
The first event was the shootout, where players had 15 seconds to run down the field and take on a goalkeeper in a one-on-one scenario. Each shooter had three attempts to beat the keeper to earn a point for their team.
With just 10 minutes of goalkeeping warm-ups and exercises, the Spirit captain bested three West team shooters, including shutting out Houston Dash’s Michelle Alozie in all her attempts. Kingsbury’s performance helped the East finished the shootout with a 4-1 lead.
“I wasn’t making too many saves,” she said. “It was just kind of running out and closing space and then sliding and being big.”
Kingsbury stops 2 of 3 of Dunn’s as the East continues to dominate in the shooting. The @WashSpirit goalkeeper said before Dunn’s first shot, “Will you come back to my city?” pic.twitter.com/k73BDxERrK
— José Mauricio Umaña (@Jose_M_Umana) November 11, 2023
After both sides split the points in Teqball, both sides played a winner-takes-all crossbar challenge, where both sides had to hit the goal’s crossbar from outside the penalty area to reach seven points before attempting the final shot from over 40 yards away.
After a slow start, the East quickly slapped the post two times to move to the final shot, where Kingsbury began firing attempts towards the goal. The West mounted a quick comeback while attempting to confuse event organizers on the score. Once the correct score was tallied and the West team tied the game, Kingsbury crushed her final shot off the post for the win.
“Keepers live for crossbars,” Kingsbury told the crowd after the event.
When asked how she would improve the competition, Kingsbury said adding games such as mini soccer golf or a relay race to involve more ball-handers would be great additions. Kingsbury added that she is ready to defend her title next year and would like her Spirit teammates to join in on the action.
“It would be pretty cool if you would have teams go against each other and move up through the bracket like March Madness-style,” she said. “That’d be sick.”
While everyone involved would have preferred to play in the NWSL Championship, Kingsbury said she thought it was a great event that promoted the league and made the final into a “destination weekend,” as seen with sports title games. It also allowed her to get to know some players she usually plays against throughout the year.
“This is nice. I’ve met some of the girls for the first time today [and] just having that camaraderie across the league,” she said. “During the season, we’re kind of enemies, but now it’s offseason, we’re a little more relaxed, and it’s fun to compete together.”