Goalscorer Erika Tymrak comes in on the attack as Ali Krieger defends and other Spirit players fall back to assist
The sun was shining in Spirit-land Wednesday night, or so it seemed. The players, under new coach Mark Parsons, came out renewed energy and enthusiasm. And the fans responded in kind – despite the season-low attendance of 2467 (not surprising when it was the first weeknight game the evening before a holiday and thunderstorms were in all the forecasts) – they seemed noisier than ever. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but somehow it still felt that the team had turned a corner and was on the rise.
Parsons shook up the lineup just a little, benching struggling forward Tiffany McCarty and replacing her with Colleen Wiliams, though Williams played more of an attacking midfielder role with Conny Pohlers as the lone forward.
Former German national team forward Conny Pohler made her home debut but got few chances
Still, it didn’t seem that the result was going to go the home team’s way. Washington had the better of possession in the first half but only two shots on goal to show for it. Pohlers seemed to be the opposite of a ball magnet, getting few touches. With Robyn Gayle out and midfielder Tori Huster valiantly trying to fill in at left flank defender, the Spirit were vulnerable to attacks from that side. It didn’t help that Kansas City defender Merritt Mathias was doing a superb job of filling in for the absence of Lauren Cheney – who’s off getting married – on that flank.
Two minutes into the second half DC had their best chance of the match as midfielder Diana Matheson, who played for the first time since suffering an injury during national team duty last month, sent a brilliant backheel in the box to Conny Pohlers. Pohlers from a tough angle on the right sent it toward the left post. Nicole Barnhart got a touch on it and sent it out for a corner kick, though it’s not entirely clear if it was on target to start with.
Huster (center) and Mathias (right) would battle all evening, with Mathias winning one key battle to trigger KC’s goal
Seven minutes later Mathias cut back to get some space against Huster in the box, then sent a cross between her and Lori Lindsey, who had come over to try to cover. The ball found an unmarked Erika Tymrak in the goalmouth, who one-touched it to the left of goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, whose dive was too late to stop the ball.
In the 65th minute, 11 minutes after the score, the Spirit had a golden opportunity as Pohlers sent in a rocket of a cross from the right to Tiffany McCarty, who’d come in in the 52nd minute. She was wide open in the middle of the goalmouth but was unable to redirect the ball sufficiently to send it toward goal.
Parsons would make another distinctive coaching decision in the 81st minute, taking out forward Conny Pohlers and subbing in defender Kika Toulouse, not the sort of decision a team that’s behind usually makes. But the resulting formation was more offensive, Toulouse taking over for Ali Krieger at the right flank defender position, allowing Krieger to move up to the midfield and support the attack.
For those who claim that McCarty was fouled outside the box, photographer Larry Clark says this photo was taken a fraction of a second before the foul
Still, with five minutes to go it appeared that Washington’s scoreless streak – by then up to 541 minutes – would continue. But Tiffany McCarty challenged Leigh Ann Robinson and Becky Sauerbrunn just inside the left edge of the penalty area. She was knocked down, and the referee pointed to the spot. It took over a minute for the kick to be taken as the referee insisted that every single toe be at least ten yards away. Matheson waited patiently, and when the whistle blew she deftly chipped the ball over Barnhart and under the crossbar as the goalkeeper dove to the left.
A cheeky Matheson chip ends the long Spirit goal drought
“I was just hoping that she would dive to one side,” the Canadian national-teamer said afterward. “Luckily it worked out because it would’ve looked pretty bad if it didn’t.”
Meanwhile, Blues head coach Vlatko Andonovski was not happy with the call, citing the several recent instances where such calls or non-calls have gone against his team. “I hope they’re watching the tape just like the coaches…. We can play against the team but not against the referees.”
Blues goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart punches the ball clear
Scoring a single goal on a controversial PK call to get a late tie at home may seem like not much to get excited about, but Parsons tried to point out the challenges the team faced with a new coach with a new system. “The words we’ve used are ‘a fresh start.’ Our two training sessions were our mini-preseason, and we started from scratch. We’ve been preparing ourselves mentally that the point or the three points may not come for a couple of games, three or four games, because it will, performance-wise, so this is a real bonus.
“So pleased with the amount of workload that players put in physically, mentally, asking them to do new roles, and to get so many players understand their new roles and physically doing it. And one of the players said to me at halftime she might have 10 minutes – she played another 45 minutes. That mental strength is absolutely incredible, but that’s what’s going to inspire the rest of us.”
Reporters aren’t supposed to become part of the story, but here I am watching Krieger deal with Tymrak (photo courtesy of Stewart Small)
This match marked the second game of the team’s second-toughest period of the season as they play 5 matches in 17 days. Next up is a road trip to New Jersey to take on the league-leading Sky Blue, after which they return home next Wednesday at 7:30 pm to play the Chicago Red Stars for the first time. The marathon ends the following Sunday as they fly back to the west coast to play Seattle, the only team they’ve beaten so far this year. But this time the Reign have marquee national teamers Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe in the lineup.
All photos but first (me) and last (Stewart Small) courtesy of Larry J. Clark/Soccer-Shots.