The Washington Spirit countered a Sophia Smith goal with a wonderful cross from Anna Heilferty for Ashley Hatch to bury an equalizer for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Thorns. Chaotically, Emily Sonnett, most of the Spirit, and me at home thought they’d snatched the winner but the referee deemed the final touch was offside. It seemed a weird call, but it did provide the following GIF.
The match began with the Spirit showing no signs of the lack of cohesion they suffered against Angel City. For the first twenty minutes, Washington was able to swarm and pin the Thorns in their own area for extended periods while they moved the ball around in search of weaknesses to attack. Anna Heilferty had a shot at goal easily saved, and a couple corners fell in dangerous areas but bounced all the way through.
The Spirit’s biggest chance in this stretch came via Amber Brooks, who was called on to start in midfield alongside Julia Roddar. Brooks charged through midfield to intercept a pass and kickoff a counter with Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch. Brooks laid the ball off to Sanchez who fed a through ball to Ashley Hatch in the box, but last season’s Golden Boot winner blazed her shot over the bar.
A few minutes later, commentator Mike Watts went on a soliloquy about players reaching service milestones in the league, but it all made sense once he reached the minute mark that marked Amber Brooks’ 10,000th minute played in the NWSL.
Portland’s best chance of the first half came from a miskick by goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. Her scuffed kick spun to the feet of Christine Sinclair at the top of the box, who settled the ball and attempted a lob. Kingsbury was at the mercy of physics but the ball dropped onto the bar and ricocheted away from goal. Bless you crossbar, thank you for being you.
Sanchez sent a dangerous cross across the face of goal in the 43rd minute that caused some panic but was eventually cleared. The score remained knotted at 0-0 heading into the halftime break.
The Spirit came out of halftime unchanged while Portland replaced midfielder Rocky Rodriguez with forward Morgan Weaver, and Becky Sauerbrunn with Meghan Nally. Sauerbrunn 45 minutes were her first since undergoing knee surgery in mid-March.
In the 54th minute Sanchez executed some clever footwork to evade pressure and play a ball wide to Trinity Rodman, but Rodman mishit her cross and pummeled the ball into the outer side netting instead. Minutes later, the deadlock was broken.
Sophia Smith collected the ball wide and dribbled at the front foot of Sam Staab before shifting quickly and hitting a powerful low drive toward the far side netting in the 57th minutes. Kingsbury dove for it but the velocity of the shot saw it evade her and roll into goal.
Then, the Spirit did that thing they do so well: respond.
Six minutes later, Heilferty collected the ball outside of the box in a good position and sent a beautifully curling cross toward the penalty spot. Ashley Hatch rose to meet it as Thorns keeper Bella Bixby charged out to try and keep the ball out. Hatch won the duel, heading the ball behind Bixby and into the net, but the keeper clattered into Hatch and they both stayed down to receive treatment.
After the delay both players get up and continue with the match knotted at 1-1.
For the rest of the match the Spirit went on a desperate search for the winning goal, and were able to craft some quality chances, including one that was controversially deemed offside.
In the flurry, Ashley Sanchez twice did some dastardly work to send difficult shots Bixby’s way. One in the 67th minute was a sharply hit looping volley that had to be punched over the bar, but the most dangerous of which came after Bixby blocked a low shot in the box from Rodman and Sanchez tried to take advantage of her being out of position. Bixby scrambled to push the ball out of play for a corner and appeared visibly relieved to have done so.
The controversial, and weird, moment came in the 71st minute. After a corner, Emily Sonnett wheeled away from goal after sticking the ball in the net only to have the referee blow for offside. That happens, even if it seemed difficult to make that call given that no one was offside when the corner was initially struck. However, rather than pull play back and allow the players following Sonnett in celebration to get back, referee Brad Jensen allowed Portland a quick restart, which sent Spirit players flipping on their afterburners to prevent an easy goal.
Luckily they were able to get back and repel any attempted attack, but it was a collection of strange decisions from the referee.
In the final seconds, Kingsbury collected a ball and launches it forward for Sanchez who lobbed it to Rodman as she darted into in the box. A defender went shoulder to shoulder causing them both to stumble, but as Rodman collected the ball the referee blew his whistle to signal a foul on Rodman. Unfortunately we’ll never know how that move would have ended, and seconds later the whistle blew for full-time.
Overall it was a solid bounce back from the champions even though the win avoided them. Hatch’s goal was critical to preserve a point, and perhaps the Thorns will feel fortunate that Sophia Smith magic brought them a point.
NWSL Regular Season
Portland Thorns - 1 (Smith, 57)
Washington Spirit - 1 (Hatch, 63)
Thorns (352): Bixby; Sauerbrunn (Nally, 45), Menges, Hubly; Kuikka (Beckie, 68), Sugita, Coffey, Rodriguez (Weaver, 45), Klingenberg; Sinclair (Moultrie, 86), Smith
Spirit (4231): Kingsbury; Biegalski, Staab, Sonnett, Heilferty; Roddar, Brooks (Aylmer, 62); Sanchez, Feist (Elwell, 73), Rodman; Hatch
Thorns - Hubly, 82
Spirit - Elwell, 90+1