Ali Krieger would score the Spirit’s one goal, and Sydney Leroux would get on the scoreboard at last
This was the match the Spirit faithful have been waiting for since the team formed, 90 minutes of quality soccer against a tough opponent. Unfortunately, a couple of defensive lapses doomed the excellent effort as the Seattle Reign escaped with a 2-1 win.
Washington came out strong to start the game, though all they had to show for it was a good bit of possession and some long shots that went high. Mid-half, the momentum shifted Seattle’s way, with the visitors getting a great chance in the 41st minute on a point-blank shot from Sydney Leroux that Ashlyn Harris did a great job to get in the way of.
The Spirit could count themselves lucky that the Reign didn’t score, though the only disappointing Spirit performance was – surprisingly – that of Yael Averbuch, who turned the ball over more often than she kept it, most notably in the 24th minute sending an assist-quality backpass right to the feet of Leroux, who would have scored but for a heroic effort from defender Toni Pressley. Averbuch was rightfully subbed out at halftime for Veronica Perez.
The home team came out strong to start the second half as well. In the 47th minute, Jodi Taylor got some space in the box thanks to a nifty backheel from Crystal Dunn. But two Seattle defenders plus Hope Solo converged on her, and her shot was blocked.
Four minutes later, the Spirit had their best chance of the match to that point as Danesha Adams sent a free kick in from the left to Ali Krieger at the right post, but her shot went off the inside of the post and away. She wasn’t to be denied for long, though, as in the 53rd minute Adams sent a beautiful chip over the defense to Taylor near the left post. Taylor headed the ball, which Solo blocked, then kicked the rebound, which Solo also blocked, but then the ball slipped out to Krieger, who fired a shot in just under the crossbar and over Solo.
It was only the second goal the Reign’s given up this year, and the first from the run of play. (The other goal – also inflicted by the Spirit – was a Diana Matheson penalty kick.)
The home celebration didn’t last for long, though, as on a corner kick just two minutes later NWSL Player of the Month for April Kim Little lofted a ball in off a short corner toward the right post. In a similar play to the Krieger goal, Stephanie Cox headed the ball toward goal, Harris made the save, but then the ball fell right to an unmarked Jessica Fishlock inside the left post, and she knocked it into an open net.
A minute later Leroux had another great chance at the left post, but Harris stuffed her again.
In the 59th minute, the Spirit had their last near-miss as Christine Nairn sent a shot from the left off the left post, but it’s possible Solo would have had it covered had it been on target.
In the 76th minute, Pressley, as she too often does, sent a long ball deep into midfield rather than playing it short. Fishlock intercepted the pass and sent it forward to Leroux. This time the national-teamer would not be denied, getting a half-step on Tori Huster and sending a perfectly placed ball into the lower right corner for what proved to be the game-winner.
The Reign were impressed with the Spirit performance. “The best side we’ve played so far,” said Little. “Very hard to break down.”
The Spirit, meanwhile, felt more unfortunate than inferior. “We really came out and forced them to play a good game,” said Huster, who had a superb defensive performance. “Unlucky to not get some more goals in.”
Washington head coach Mark Parsons was pleased with his team. “I think it’s the best that we’ve been. When we got after them and pressed them, they couldn’t do what they like to do, and they looked average.” He pointed in particular to the first twenty minutes of the first half and the first ten minutes of the second, but was of course disappointed in giving up the goals. “Their goals were cheap, really. They came from our mistakes, the set piece and the giveaway centrally.”
He’s still trying to find the ideal spot for Crystal Dunn, who apparently has too much talent to play just one position. “She killed it in practice playing the #10 this week. And when we saw her killing it, we thought, tactically, she could probably take care of Winters and Fishlock on her own. In the first half she got a bit confused and kept getting it and passing it around like a true #10. But that’s not her main strength. I told her at halftime, ‘Every time you passed it, the whole Seattle team was like, “Thank God she passed it.” When you run at people, you scare the life out of them. So pick your moments, and get at them.’”
On the down side, the Spirit are still waiting to get any production from their forwards, though Parsons thinks that’s just a matter of time and opportunities.
Washington goes on the road next weekend, playing FC Kansas City – one of the two teams they’ve beaten already – Sunday at 7 pm EDT at Verizon Wireless Field Durwood Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Meanwhile, Seattle – in a highly anticipated matchup – takes on west coast rival Portland Thorns Saturday at 10 pm at Providence Park, the Reign’s third consecutive road match. Both teams are undefeated, and the only undefeated teams left in the league.