Wrapping up a four-game homestand in front of 4,027, an impassioned young Spirit squad showed no signs of intimidation against a team with a two-game winning streak and the winners of the previous two week's NWSL Player of the Week in Sydney Leroux and Heather O'Reilly. Washington again shut down their opponent's the top producers, holding both scoreless.
After giving up a late goal for a 1-1 draw during the two teams' first meeting April 14, roles were reversed this time. Saturday it was the Spirit that scored second to spoil a would-be victory for the Breakers.
The game marked the NWSL debut of Spirit defender Candace Chapman, who had been recovering from a minor knee surgery and the return to the Soccerplex of two long-time Washington standouts in Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson, both now playing for Boston.
And they did it in style, combining on an early goal that would be Boston's only of the night. Katie Schoepfer lofted a ball to the far side of the field where Leroux was lurking just outside of the penalty box, immediately drawing Ali Krieger out to mark her. LeRoux headed the ball into the box, connecting with Sanderson who dribbled around the six, attracting Chapman's attention. Julia Roberts and Tori Huster left Lohman unmarked about 10 yards from the goal and Sanderson found her. Lohman's one-timer sailed past Washington goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to put Boston up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
Despite giving up the goal, Washington controlled much of the tempo and possession, though the offense did not muster any serious scoring chances in the first half.
The Spirit turned up the pressure in the second half. A few minutes into play, a perfectly paced pass from Diana Matheson connected with Lindsey on a run. Lindsey hit a world class shot, falling to her right, pounding the ball into the upper left corner of the goal out of reach of goalkeeper Ashley Phillips to equalize at 1-1.
Harris said she had a great vantage point on the goal from the opposite end of the field. "I wouldn't want it to happen to me, that's for sure," Harris said. "That was hit perfect. I don't think any goalkeeper is getting to that."
The Spirit maintained pressure after the goal, which didn't result in another tally, but did have the added effect of helping limit opportunities for the Breakers' attack.
"I thought we did a good job defending and more so, pressing," said Spirit Head Coach Mike Jorden. "We took away a lot of chances for them to knock balls in."
After her three-goal performance last week, LeRoux was a non-factor, neutralized by Krieger in the first half and Domineca Hodak in the second. LeRoux said she did not believe she played her best game, but also admitted playing on the slower, larger grass pitch at the Soccerplex was an adjustment.
"I wouldn't say that's an excuse or anything. But we've been playing on turf this entire season," said Leroux. "I haven't seen grass since we played Germany and The Netherlands."
Hodak came on for the second half after Krieger felt a little pain in her right knee. The team described it as a precaution. But she did appear to tweak something in the 34th minute, though she did not leave the game.
As for the paltry Spirit offense, Jorden adjusted the formation slightly, moving Stephanie Ochs up from midfield to forward for the first time this season. The change allowed Ochs to spend more time in the final third, though she's still looking for her first goal of the season.
Once again, Washington earned a large number of corner kicks with eight, but the height-challenged team has yet to score on one.
"We change them up about every week," said Jorden. "We've been close a couple of times. All we can do is stay positive about them. We're not a big team so we've got to be a little clever about what we put together."
While not coming away with a win at home, the Spirit did manage a point in half of those outings, the only losses coming to the top two teams in the league. The team heads west for matches against bottom-dwelling Seattle Thursday and then to Portland for a re-match with the league-leading Thorns.
"We're itching for a win right now. That's pretty clear," said Harris, who felt positive about the team's overall performance in its second game against Boston. "A lot of those kids are young. I don't think they get a lot of respect for what they do. And it's not easy just being thrown in there. And we tell them every day, you've got to bring your youth, you've got to bring your energy. We need it. They out-number us old guys."
This team desperately needs to solve its lack of offensive firepower and lack of height. Coach Mike Jorden said they would be looking at players finishing up in Europe. Coach Jorden, I have two words for you: Sarah Hagen. Trust me on this.
While playing solid all season, Lori Lindsey picked the right moment to really shine, with US Coach Tom Sermanni in attendance. Sermanni sat in the stands (with US trainer Rick Guter and US Soccer women's technical director April Heinrichs), taking notes throughout the game. While I still believe it's a real long shot for Lori to earn a long-term role on the US squad, I do think she could be a player to assist in this transition period, leading into the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Stephanie Ochs is a dynamic player. I think I've said this about 8 different ways now. I was very pleased to see Jorden recognize that and move her to forward. I hope he keeps her there and lets her try to grow into a striking role. Though I saw little chemistry with McCarty so that is a concern, probably more on the part of McCarty.