The Washington Spirit played fairly well, but a spectacular Sam Kerr goal and some crucial breakdowns saw the Chicago Red Stars win tonight’s rain-soaked game at SeatGeek Stadium by a 3-1 scoreline. Kerr had a brace, breaking her own league record for goals in a season in the process, while the Spirit saw Chloe Logarzo’s first half penalty saved by Alyssa Naeher. Mal Pugh’s late goal was not enough to spark a Washington comeback.
Both teams seemed to be up to the task early, but the game’s first chance of any kind ended up being a spectacular chip from Kerr. Katie Johnson’s through ball initially appeared to leave Kerr with no options to shoot. Instead, Kerr — from virtually no angle, and with her first touch — impudently chipped the ball across goal, over Aubrey Bledsoe, and just inside the back post, giving Chicago a 9th minute lead.
Washington had a quick reply, with Cheyna Matthews cutting inside of Julie Ertz before forcing a tricky save from Alyssa Naeher, but Chicago’s ability to play on the counter was proving very dangerous.
Eventually, that threat cost the Spirit, who fell behind 2-0 in the 23rd minute. Sarah Gorden’s throw-in shouldn’t have been too much trouble, but too many white shirts collapsed on Johnson, who smartly back-heeled a pass to a suddenly open Kerr. Kerr drew Bledsoe off her line before squaring to Yuki Nagasato at the back post, and Nagasato crushed a shot over Tori Huster and into the roof of the net.
The Spirit didn’t let their heads drop, and a long ball over the top saw Chloe Logarzo catch Casey Short off-guard. Chasing after the ball in the box, Logarzo and Short collided, and referee Mark Allatin pointed to the spot. Logarzo stepped up to take the penalty herself in the 33rd minute, but was denied by a spectacular save by Alyssa Naeher.
Rose Lavelle, back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a head injury just over a month ago, danced into a dangerous spot in the 36th minute, but her low-angle shot was denied by her USWNT teammate Naeher.
Lavelle would depart at halftime, and the Spirit’s night would get worse shortly thereafter. In the 49th minute, Nagasato played a clever outside-of-the-foot pass in behind the Washington back four, finding a sprinting Kerr. The NWSL’s leading scorer showed no mercy, taking advantage of time and space to fire past Bledsoe for her 18th goal of the season.
The goal effectively ended the match as a contest, and Washington took a while to really find an intensity level that would allow them to trouble Chicago. Ashley Hatch, often deprived of service thanks to Chicago’s defensive quality, finally had a look in the 77th minute, holding off three defenders before ripping a shot towards the upper corner that Naeher did very well to save.
That was a preview of what was to come, as the Spirit finally started to find some cracks in the Red Stars back line. They finally got their breakthrough in the 80th minute, as Staab was given time to serve a long ball in behind just as Chicago stepped their lines up. Mal Pugh slashed in between the Chicago center backs, rounded the approaching Naeher with her first touch, and put enough on her shot that Tierna Davidson’s sliding block attempt wasn’t enough to preserve the shutout. It was the first goal of the season for Pugh, who made just her 5th appearance of the season due to injury and the World Cup,
While the Spirit pursued an unlikely comeback, Chicago eventually ended up removing all of their attacking midfielders for more conservative options, and Washington couldn’t quite carve out another big chance.
The defeat drops the Spirit to 7W-8L-5D, and they will end the night somewhere between five and eight points out of the playoff race with four games left on their 2019 schedule. Washington won’t have much time to recover, as they face a trip south to face the Houston Dash this coming Wednesday night.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 20)
Chicago Red Stars 3 (Kerr 9, 49; Nagasato 23)
Washington Spirit 1 (Pugh 80)
Chicago (4231): Alyssa Naeher; Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz (C), Tierna Davidson, Casey Short; Morgan Brian, Danielle Colaprico; Katie Johnson (Brooke Elby 86), Savannah McCaskill (Nikki Stanton 72), Yuki Nagasato (Zoey Goralski 81); Sam Kerr
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Cali Farquharson; Chloe Logarzo (Crystal Thomas 66), Andi Sullivan (C), Rose Lavelle (Meggie Dougherty Howard 46); Mal Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Cheyna Matthews (Arielle Ship 76)
Chicago - None
Spirit - Nielsen 53, Staab 62, Dougherty Howard 65