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Recap: Washington Spirit lose a heartbreaker as North Carolina Courage score a winner in second half stoppage time

Ouch

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The rematch of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Final did not disappoint as the Washington Spirit used two second goals to equalize against the North Carolina Courage before conceding the winner in stoppage time. Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch got on the scoresheet but a Kerolin goal and two center back goals give the Spirit their third loss of the season.

Before we get into game action, it was Pride Night at Segra and it’s important to reflect on that for a moment. Pride is fun, and it has been great to see the celebrations nationwide and in fact worldwide, but let’s also remember why Pride is necessary. People were hunted, targeted and assaulted for being who they are, and in many cases still are. Pride began as a protest against such brutality, it is what it is today because visibility is about acceptance.

Now, onto the match.

The Spirit let in another early goal as Kerolin returned to haunt their dreams. Brianna Pinto sent a through ball from her own half into space behind and Kerolin wins the foot race with Emily Sonnett to latch onto it and dribble into the box. Sonnett tried to guide Kerolin to her left to keep her from coming central but left too much space and Kerolin picker out the far side netting.

In the 19th minute Trinity Rodman nearly equalized by producing her unique brand of magic. Sanchez found Rodman in space wide right and the rookie of the year sold a move to the byline before cutting inside and rocketing a left footed shot. North Carolina goalkeeper Casey Murphy leapt and swatted the ball onto the bar to preserve the Courage’s lead.

Though the Spirit were able to craft chances, they came in between multiple spells of danger from North Carolina. The press from the visitors stifled Washington in all areas of the pitch and opened up gaps in transition.

In the 40th minute the Courage nearly double their lead as Pinto sent a low ball flying through the box which Debinha nearly touched across the line. Following the resulting corner, Trinity Rodman claims possession and starts a 1v3 break. She’s able to split defenders but still has obstructions to goal so she prays the ball wide to Ashley Sanchez whose cross to Audrey Harding was headed out of play.

Washington switched Rodman to the left side to match her up with Merritt Mathias which yielded some of their best attacking moments of the half. Minutes before the halftime whistle Rodman sent a splitting through ball to Maddie Elwell at the top of the box that stunned the Courage defense, and seemingly also Elwell.

Though the rookie put the ball in the back of the net, she was flagged for offside. It would have been an unreal assist and was an incredible find and pass from Rodman, and would have been a big boost heading into halftime.

However, the teams went into the break with Kerolin’s early strike separating them.

Needing a goal, Ashley Hath replaced Audrey Harding to start the second half. Unfortunately, after a mini spell from Washington, a succession of three consecutive corners pays off the the visitors as Abby Erceg nods the ball across the line to double their lead.

In the 56th minute Emily Sonnett collects a loose ball in midfield and feeds Rodman who lines up a dribble before laying off to Sanchez in the box. The pass caught the defense and left Sanchez with an opening but her shot was straight at Casey Murphy who caught the shot. It was a wonderful chance to halve the deficit with plenty of time left on the clock but it wasn’t to be.

The Spirit finally find their first goal in over two and half matches as a wonderful flick in the box to Sanchez was scooped into the far corner. The goal cut North Carolina’s lead in half and gave Washington fifteen minutes to find the equalizer.

However, they only need a few minutes to craft a great chance for an equalizer as Emily Sonnett was fouled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Ashley Hatch stepped up to face Casey Murphy and sent the keeper the wrong way to bury the penalty and draw the Spirit level.

Scoring twice in quick succession gave the Spirit the confidence and time to seek a winning goal.

The two comeback goals sparked the Spirit into life. They dominated possession and kept the ball in the Courage’s defensive third for long spells. Multiple entries into the box were repelled by the Courage, but just barely. Then in the 91st minute a Sam Staab foul gave the Courage a rare chance since the two goals that they then capitalized upon.

A curling ball into the box fell to a North Carolina boot but was pushed away by Aubrey Kingsbury, however center back Kaleigh Kurtz was first to the ball and blasted it across the line into the back of the net.

The final whistle concludes a brutal end to a game and a brutal end to an unprecedented stretch of games for the Washington Spirit. After the hard work to claw back, a set piece goal bundled over the line denies them a hard earned point.

Washington are back at it next Friday, June 17, at Segra Field against Racing Louisville.


Box Score

NWSL Regular Season

Washington Spirit - 2 (Sanchez 74’, Hatch [P] 79’)

North Carolina Courage - 3 Kerolin 6’, Erceg 50’, Kurtz 90+2’)

Lineups:

Spirit (4231): Kingsbury; Heilferty (O’Hara 74’), Staab, Sonnett, Biegalski; Roddar (Fesit 59’), Aylmer; Elwell (Goff 66’), Sanchez, Rodman; Harding (Hatch 46’)

Courage (4231): Murphy; C. Pickett, Erceg, Kurtz, Mathias; O’Sullivan, Berkely (Williams 80’); Kerolin (Tagliaferri 90+4’), Debinha, Pinto (Speck 65’); Ordoñez (Daniels 80’)

Bookings:

Spirit - Staab 90+1’

Courage - O’Sullivan 89’