Loudoun duo playing professional soccer for Washington Spirit

DiDi Haracic Whitney Church

In a lot of ways, Whitney Church and DiDi Haracic’s involvement in soccer isn’t too uncommon from others.

Around the age of 5, they first started playing the sport. Just a few short years later when they became old enough, they started playing travel. Then it was high school and college soccer later on after that.

But it’s that one final level that comes next that largely separates the two from the rest.

Both Church and Haracic are now playing professionally for the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League – and they came to reach that point as lifelong Loudoun County residents and longtime friends.

“It’s funny, we actually played on the same club team growing up,” Haracic said. “We played for Loudoun (Soccer) together.”

And it’s through that where much of their story begins.

Both players have some difficulty remembering when they first joined the Loudoun club ranks, but they speculate it was around 2000 when they would have been 7 or 8. From that point, they remained teammates until Haracic switched over to McLean Youth Soccer during high school.

At the high school level, both Church and Haracic played for teams who consistently ranked among the best in the state – even if they were at different schools. Church, who won four straight AA state titles, graduated from Broad Run in 2011, while Haracic, competing in AAA, became a Loudoun Valley alum in 2010.

“Ours was better, that’s all I’m saying,” Church said of their high school teams.

Haracic, playfully unamused, didn’t want to get into it.

“No comment,” she said.

Still, Church was able to concede that her Spartans weren’t – and aren’t – the only reputable team in Loudoun, a place she calls a “good area for soccer.”

And it’s at least in part for that reason why the Spirit held a preseason match against the University of North Carolina at Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg on March 25 – its first in the state of Virginia. Its usual home venue is the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Maryland.

Church played the entirety of the game at center back and Haracic served as the reserve goalkeeper in the 5-0 win played in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,000.

“There are quality high schools, quality club teams all around the Northern Virginia area so growing up playing against each other, it was always fun competition,” Church said.

Yet, despite that, Church and Haracic are the only players in the 10-team NWSL from Loudoun County and two of the three overall from Northern Virginia. Ali Krieger, a former Spirit defender from Dumfries who also plays for the U.S. women’s national team, is the other.

While the NCAA does not appear to have statistics for women’s soccer, only 1.4 percent of men’s college soccer players are estimated to go pro based on 2017 data. Considering there are significantly fewer professional women’s teams, it can be imagined that women’s players have worse odds.

That’s especially not lost on a player like Haracic, whose professional journey hasn’t been as smooth as others. But it’s also not something that actively bothers her.

“It’s been a process,” Haracic said. “But it’s nice to be able to wake up every morning and tell people I am stepping out on the soccer pitch. It’s fun to wake up and love what I do and just be happy about it.

“I’m here, I’m getting better and that’s all that matters right now to me.”

After a four-year career at Loyola (Md.) University, Haracic had a brief stint with the Western New York Flash in 2014, spent the 2015 season with Krokom/Dvärsätts IF in Sweden and then returned to play for the Washington Spirit Reserves last year before receiving a call up to the senior team in August.

Last month, she signed a pro contract with the Spirit for the 2017 season.

“It’s good to be back with the hometown team,” Haracic said.

Church has been with the Spirit since 2015 when she was selected with the 30th overall pick in the 2015 NSWL Draft after a four-year career at Penn State University.

Going into this season, the Spirit have been tasked with replacing several players – including Krieger and Crystal Dunn, another U.S. national teamer – from a team that came within moments of capturing its first NWSL championship last year.

But the personnel turnover also could mean more opportunities for Church and Haracic, in particular, as well. Church appears poised to play a more leading role along the Spirit’s backline this season and Haracic could see action, too, particularly if starting goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé gets called up to the Canada national team as is often the case.

Nevertheless, even if it doesn’t necessarily come in a game, it’s reassuring for the two Loudoun natives to know they can lean on one another over the course of the highs and lows of a season given their history.

“It’s cool to build a relationship like us,” Church said. “She has my back and I have hers. It’s just a sense of calm knowing what we can do and how we can help each other.”

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