The rematch of the 2021 NWSL Championship ended 1-1 as the Chicago Red Stars' early goal was cancelled out by a late equalizer by the Washington Spirit. The draw is already the Spirit’s fourth of the season, and fourth consecutive. Considering the Spirit only drew six times all last season, this brutal stretch of matches is already having an impact that will likely be tangible enough to point to on the final table.
The match began a grossly hot and dry Wednesday evening with zero cloud cover. The venue and surface at Segra Field led to some precautionary absences from the start, with Red Stars coach Chris Petrucelli naming Mallory Pugh on the bench and Kris Ward opting to do the same with Andi Sullivan.
The NWSL needs to review this agreement as soon as possible, it’s not great that an early season rematch of last year’s championship game was diminished before it even got started.
Anywho, the match opened with both teams feeling each other out and being able to probe half chances in each other’s box within the first five minutes.
Chicago opened the scoring in the tenth minute through Ella Stevens, who towered to bury a header from quality service from the Spirit’s left side of defense. It was quality work from the Red Stars to work space on the edge of the box to give Sarah Griffith time to pick out a cross.
Annoyed by the goal, the Spirit parked the ball in Chicago’s half for a long spell. A couple entries into the box are blocked at the final moments by the Red Stars, but the pressure continued. Eventually they get the ball in the back of the net but an offside call disallows the goal.
A minute later Trinity Rodman blazed into the box, used a chop to evade a defender but Alyssa Naeher charged out of goal to smother the shot.
A bad back pass, assisted by the dry Segra surface, nearly gifted Chicago another goal as Emily Sonnett doesn’t get enough weight on a square pass and has it intercepted. It was a miniature two-on-one break, the final shot beat Kingsbury but also the post.
Chicago break through again after the hydration break but some great defending from Sam Staab deflects the ball away from goal. The Spirit continued to struggle with Chicago’s press and numbers in midfield. On occasion they’re able to spring free down the wings but either quality defending, good goalkeeping or the crossbar kept the final strike from registering on the scoreboard.
The Red Stars' early goal remained the difference between the side at halftime.
After both teams load up after halftime, with Chicago bringing on Mal Pugh and the Spirit Andi Sullivan, Washington immediately flew into attack and a Sanchez shot hit the top of the bar.
Ashley Sanchez comes close pic.twitter.com/tpaoZ0Jev3— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) June 2, 2022
In the 50th minute Karina Rodriguez sends Rodman racing free down the line. She charges into the box and takes a powerful wide shot that flies a foot high over the bar. It was an ambitious angle to shoot, but Rodman is more than capable of the audacious.
Sullivan closes hard in midfield to take possession and get the ball to Sanchez running at the top of the box. Sanchez finds Rodman with a great touch pass but the shot was hit with a bit too much power and flew high.
The Spirit did a better job of coping with Chicago’s press and numbers after halftime, and began to look much more like themselves. Still, an equalizing goal was proving elusive after the hour mark.
There were shouts for a penalty in the 73rd minute as Spirit forward Audrey Harding received the ball and dribbled into the box, evading one defender but getting caught by a second and tumbling over.
After the second half hydration break Spirit coach Kris Ward subbed off Sanchez, Rodman and Harding, surely with an eye on the rapid stretch of games to go until the international break.
In the 86th minute the Spirit find their equalizer through Sam Staab. After sending in a few good deliveries herself, Staab got on the end of a beautifully curled in free kick and lobbed her header back across goal over Naeher and under the post.
SAM STAAB HEADER ⚡— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) June 2, 2022
A late game equalizer for the Spirit pic.twitter.com/nHJrYqL2EH
The goal energized Washington who came back out flying after the restart and put the Red Stars under more duress. All Chicago players could do is pack the box and hope the bounces fell kindly enough to allow them to flick the ball out of danger before another strike could come.
Washington entered six minutes of stoppage time hoping to replicate the late flurry by Orlando in the previous game that took away three points. Only one goal was needed this time to snatch all three but the match reached full time with both teams having to settle for a point. On the balance, the Spirit will be frustrated they let in an early goal and couldn’t equalize early enough to turn one point into three.
But they’ll be back at it Sunday, June 4 against Gotham FC at Red Bull Arena.
NWSL Regular Season
Washington Spirit 1 (Staab 86’)
Chicago Red Stars 1 (Stevens 10’)
Spirit (4231): Kingsbury (C); Heilferty (Brooks, 83’), Staab, Sonnett, Rodriguez (Alexander, 90’); Aylmer (Sullivan, 45’), Roddar; Hatch, Sanchez (Feist, 77’), Rodman (Elwell, 77’); Harding (Goff, 77’)
Red Stars (3421): Naeher; Milazzo, Sharples, Morse; Hill, Aguilera, DiBernardo [C](Cook, 45’), Fisher (Pugh, 45’); Griffith (Luebbert, 65’), Nagasato; Stevens (Colaprico, 45’)
Spirit - Roddar 30’, Brooks 90+1
Red Stars - Milazzo 45+2,