The Spirit began their home debut against the Western New York Flash in the same 4-4-1-1 formation as they did a week ago. Ashlyn Harris was the goalkeeper. The defenders (R to L) were Ali Krieger, Robin Gayle, Tori Huster, and Kika Toulouse. The midfielders (R to L) were Ingrid Wells, Lori Lindsey, Julia Roberts, and Stephanie Ochs. The forwards were Diana Matheson and Tiffany McCarty, with the former playing slightly withdrawn, with freedom to roam.
The opening 10 minutes were great for the Spirit. They knocked the ball around with relative ease, often finding Ochs down the left side against Flash defender Alex Sahlen, who was no match for the Spirit midfielder. That possession did not lead to many shots, and Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was not tested. While Matheson was again finding space wherever she could to find the ball, that often resulted in McCarty being left on an island and easily canceled out by the Flash center backs, Brittany Taylor and Estelle Johnson. By the 20th minute, Western New York had found their way into the game, and Abby Wambach nearly put them in front with a sliding shot that flew up and bounced off the crossbar. That was followed in the 29th minute by a cross from the Spirit defensive left that Wambach headed to the near post, forcing a sparkling save from Harris.
Defensively, the Spirit's weak spot at left back showed itself for the second consecutive week. The Flash attack often went through right midfielder Samantha Kerr, and Toulouse had trouble staying with her regardless of whether she had the ball. Conversely, Tori Huster turned in a fantastic performance at center back. She looked to be solely responsible for marking Flash forward Abby Wambach in open play, often beating her in the air. It was a Woman of the Match performance, and just think, she's supposed to be a midfielder.
At halftime, Spirit coach Mike Jorden took Wells off in favor of forward Jasmyne Spencer, who joined McCarty at forward, forcing Matheson to right midfield. McCarty and Spencer were essentially invisible through what was mostly an uneventful second half. For McCarty's part, she appeared to tire significantly as the game went on, and she was replaced by forward Caroline Miller in the 84th minute, which probably came about 20 minutes too late. On the dead ball that came after the substitution, Wambach nodded down a ball from the wing, and Kerr was on hand to finish to put the Flash up 1-0. There was no replay available tonight, but it's worth noting that Kerr had been Toulouse's mark all night.
The Spirit would answer quickly. A minute later, Spencer was sent in behind the defense. As she entered the area, her feet became tangled with the defender who was tracking her, and Spencer went down. There was a moment of hesitation before the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. It was a soft one, and I initially didn't think it would be called. Matheson stepped up to the spot and beat Franch to Matheson's left to level the score. Franch guessed the right way but couldn't reach it.
There were three minutes of stoppage, and just one minute of it had passed before Jorden made the peculiar decision to remove Spencer, who had only come on at halftime, for defender Domenica Hodak, who went to the right side of midfield. I think it was a rough indictment of Spencer, whose largest contribution to the game was accidental.
The Spirit have a week off to find some more offense, and try to fix the glaring hole in defense. They're playing well enough, but not well enough to win 2-1 games, and on another night they would have lost this match 1-0.