Not the outcome either team wanted to see
The 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars was the first home win in Washington Spirit history. It felt like the first win ever. And the wait just for the final whistle seemed almost as long as the season-long wait for the home win – particularly since the final whistle never came.
It was a normal-enough start, though with the pleasant surprise of some genuine offensive forays by Washington. In the ninth minute, Holly King headed a Julia Roberts corner kick toward the inside of the right post. Chicago Red Stars’ goalkeeper Erin McLeod blocked the shot but couldn’t hold onto the ball. Jasmyne Spencer attempted to put it away but fouled McLeod in the process.
The first surreal moment came in the 18th minute, when the center referee slipped on the grass, did a split, and fell down. Shortly thereafter, Michelle Wenino sent in a cross to the head of Inka Grings, but Spirit goalkeeper Chantel Jones collected the ball.
Two minutes later came what looked like a near-certain score as Diana Matheson was through right in front of goal. A defender took her down about 15 yards out in what looked from the pressbox at the time as a clear foul, but the replay made it appear more shoulder-to-shoulder. McLeod dove to block the ball but missed, and it continued rolling toward goal, with Sonja Fuss making a sliding save to keep it from rolling in.
Ali Krieger steadied the team when she entered early in the second half (courtesy of @EriMacPhoto)
It was scoreless at halftime, but for once the Spirit had shown more offense, with 8 shots and 5 on goal to the Red Stars’ 5 and 3. Said head coach Mark Parsons after the game, “The first half, I feel they got a couple of clear-cut opportunities but we created a lot more. That might be the first half that we got more shots on than the opposition for a long time.”
The second surreal moment was watching Washington’s bench players warm up during halftime. Normally these are the second-string players who might get a chance in the latter half of the game, but because Parsons wanted to rest some key players, they ended up being Lori Lindsey, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, and Conny Pohlers – the entire USWNT allocation plus the recently signed German international.
Chicago came out strong to start the second half. On a free kick in the 47th minute, Grings tried to turn on the ball in the box but ended up sending it wide right. Three minutes later, somehow Adriana Leon was left totally unmarked in the middle of the field and got the ball, but her first touch was heavy and sent the ball far enough away in front of her that Jones was able to come out and dive on it.
Parsons again: “The scariest moment was coming out second half for the first 5-10 minutes. And I looked at [goalkeeper coach] Lloyd [Yaxley] and thought, ‘There’s only one thing that will help swing momentum, and it’s not a tactical or technical thing. It’s just a psychological thing.’ And that’s when we brought Krieger on. Everyone (on the Spirit) was kind of panicking and shaking a little bit, they see her come on, and everyone settled.”
Ali Krieger came in for Jasmyne Spencer in the 55th minute to enthusiastic applause from the 2081 in attendance. Three minutes later Mexican international Lupita Worbis spun around a defender near midfield to find some space, brought the ball forward, passed it off to Matheson on her left while continuing her run. Matheson bounced the ball between defenders right back to Worbis, who slid the ball between McLeod’s legs and into the net.
It was Worbis’s first goal of the season and came with her parents in the stands for the first time. “They are here since last week, and this is the first game they see here,” she said. “That’s very good support for me. They always try to be supportive, and I’m so happy that they are here.”
Lupita Worbis would score the game-winning goal – her first – in front of her parents (courtesy of @EriMacPhoto)
Somewhere in this time-frame, 34-year-old Maribel Dominguez – who entered in the 64th minute – blew past Tori Huster and another young Spirit player to get in close, prompting my colleague Beau Dure to exclaim, “You just got beat by someone who played in the WUSA!”
In the 68th minute, torrential rain started to fall, sounding like machine-gun fire against the metal of the stands. Eight minutes later, the Soccerplex’s lightning alarm sounded. The referee was slow to stop play, possibly because Chicago was in the middle of an attack, but blew his whistle once the ball was cleared. The clock was stopped at 76:35. The referees, players, and supporting personnel cleared the field, while fans were told to head for the protection of their cars. It was 9:03 pm, and they only needed to play another 13:25 (plus stoppage time) to finish the match. It wouldn’t happen.
The all-clear blew at 9:40 pm, and fans began to return to the stands. But five minutes later – just as the players were returning to the field – the warning horn blew again. After that, things really got confusing. The all-clear blew at 10:20, but Director of Operations Ashlee Comber could be heard on the walkie-talkies saying that people should hold off. Even so, the teams returned to the field shortly thereafter. I ended up being out of the loop for a bit, joining play-by-play announcer Michael Minnich on the roof of the pressbox along with Beau Dure of SportsMyriad and Jennifer Gordon of the Equalizer – most of the press in attendance that evening – for a media roundtable.
The match finally resumed at 10:47 pm after a 104-minute delay. With the starting ballgirls having gone home by this late hour, the sidelines ended up being manned by Spirit staffers and volunteers.
When it’s past the ballgirls’ bedtime, you sub in whoever you can get (courtesy of @EriMacPhoto)
Chicago would get one of their best chances of the evening in the 79th minute when Jen Hoy crossed left-to-right to an open Maribel Dominguez out from the right post, but she would shoot high.
But just as the clock turned over 80 minutes, the warning sounded again. Not surprisingly, there was some reluctance to clear the field and considerable discussion before the referees finally walked off with the teams unenthusiastically following behind.
The few remaining fans – who had congregated in Section 106 just below the pressbox, and who had been making an outsized amount of noise – mostly made their way to the patio of the Discovery Sports Center, just outside the main entrance. Beau, Jen, and I eventually snuck inside but were mostly as information-starved as everyone else.
With the clock approaching 11:30, and a Soccerplex curfew of midnight. it was clear it was going to be tight. The teams had agreed that they would stay warmed up inside and start up as soon as they took the field. The Red Stars were kicking balls around on the basketball courts and occasionally dunking one, while the Spirit did warmups in place just outside the locker rooms. I heard one of the referees say that they needed 13 minutes to finish – 10 for regulation and 3 for stoppage time – to complete the game, so 11:47 was the drop-dead time.
The key timer on the matter was the one associated with the lightning detection system, which started over at 15 minutes whenever any was detected within ten miles. When it reset at 11:28, the writing was on the wall.
There was no formal announcement, nor even any loud celebration. The main clue I had to the conclusion was that a couple of Spirit staffers pulled out a huge stack of pizza boxes and set them out just outside the team locker rooms. That and a couple of Soccerplex staffers who wandered past muttering, “Will not resume.”
It wasn’t how anyone wanted the game to end, the Red Stars because a loss mathematically eliminated them from the playoffs, the Spirit because it eliminated much of the satisfaction of a proper win. Goalkeeper Jones: “It feels weird that we didn’t get to finish. We didn’t really get to properly celebrate.”
Conny Pohlers gives Parsons some encouragement after his first win with the Spirit
And Parsons: “First emotion was, I was a bit gutted that we didn’t get the opportunity to go do it and have that emotion when the whistle went. Number two was, go back in there and have a party and enjoy this moment because we deserve it. After all the things that have gone wrong, we definitely deserve it.”
The win saves the Washington Spirit from the ignominy of having the worst record in the history of women’s professional soccer. That distinction remains with the 2011 Atlanta Beat of WPS, who compiled a 1-13-4 record (due to an owner who cared more about his budget than fielding a competitive team). They still need one more standings point to surpass the second-worst ever, the 3-17-1 2002 New York Power of the WUSA. Regrettably, the third-worst team – the 2010 Atlanta Beat (5-13-6) – are already out of reach.
Maria Lyon was one of a number of fans who found it worthwhile to stay until midnight (courtesy of Maria Lyon)
On the other hand, fan support has been strong. The evening’s attendance of 2081 was the lowest of the season, presumably due to a weeknight match against a team with no headline players. Still, an extraordinary number hung around to the bitter end. Those waiting outside the doors of the Discovery Sports Center were rewarded with a visit from players on both teams, who were impressed and moved by the fan loyalty, tweeting about it repeatedly in the ensuing hours.
Kika Toulouse: “Thank you to all the @WashSpirit fans who stuck around until MIDNIGHT to support us! We love you guys!! #wehavethebestfans”
Holly King: “Thank you to the fans who stuck around after all the delays! #bestfans #DCspirit”
Chantel Jones: “WE HAVE THE BEST FANS!! Thanks to all who stayed and supported us during the game!! Especially @SpiritSquadron @WSpiritAnimals”
Diana Matheson: “Thanks again to all the amazing Spirit fans last night, I can’t believe some of you stayed to the very end! Felt great to get a win!”
Meanwhile, Saturday’s match against the Seattle Reign – with headliners Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe – already has 3650 tickets sold and will probably compete with the Portland Thorns match for the highest attendance of the season. And the team has already sold 2500 tickets for the season finale against Sky Blue the following Sunday.
Highlight video online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRGGT-c96TA#at=93