This cursed Washington Spirit season continues in perhaps the oddest fashion yet as a late gift of a goal by Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby was countered by a fortunate deflection from the crossbar and a winning goal scored by Morgan Weaver in second half stoppage time.
Lightning in the area delayed kickoff just over an hour, and also caused golden boot leader Sophia Smith to be replaced in the lineup by Marissa Everett.
The first twenty-five minutes was dominated by a relentless high press from the Washington Spirit. Pressure forced a number of mistakes from Portland defenders who either kicked the ball out of play or misplayed passes that Spirit players were able to collect.
Despite the pressure, the Spirit weren’t able to capitalize with a goal. Rodman, Sanchez, and Hatch had opportunities to connect but the final pass or shot was either just off, well defended, or saved by Bella Bixby. Throughout this spell, on the rare occasion when Portland was able to evade the press, it was Aubrey Kingsbury who batted away or held shots that could have given the visitors a lead against the run of play.
In the 33rd minute Andi Sullivan had the best chance of the half as Aubrey Kingsbury flung a ball from her penalty area to launch Trinity Rodman on a counter. Rodman’s initial through ball was read and cut out out by Portland, but Trinity kept possession and eventually laid the ball off to Andi Sullivan who arrowed a shot to the far side netting that Bella Bixby scraped wide.
Sullivan’s chance was the best of the half until five minutes later when Bella Bixby stopped Ashley Sanchez in a 1v1. Rodman got the ball in space at midfield and played a lovely weighted through ball to Ashley Hatch to run onto at the top of the box. Hatch, with a defender trailing, sends a ball across the pitch for Sanchez to latch onto in front of Bixby. Sanchez tries to casually lift it over the sprawling keeper but Bixby is able to get enough contact to swat the ball away.
The first half ended with the two sides knotted 0-0 thanks to stellar goalkeeping from Kingsbury and Bixby.
The second half began with the league leaders taking the initiative. Portland was able to work the ball behind the fullbacks to their attacking players for dangerous chances. Good defending and Kingsbury were called on again to keep the score level.
As the match ticked beyond the hour mark the Spirit began to reassert themselves into the match. Though Portland remained dangerous whenever they were allowed to hold the ball and swing it from flank to flank, the Spirit were dangerous through winning possession and working the ball through midfield for more direct attacks.
Ashley Hatch nearly put the Spirit on top in the 70th minute as Biegalski sent a floated cross into the box that last season’s golden boot winner could only turn onto the crossbar.
Two minutes after coming onto the pitch Bayley Feist is found with a late run into the box by Camryn Biegalski. Feist’s near post shot was saved by a sprawling Bixby. However, the resulting corner ended in Bixby snatching the ball from the sky but falling backwards into her own net but was across the line with the ball in her hands.
The goal was truly one of the strangest things I’ve seen but given how the season has gone, this bit of good, though incredibly odd, fortune was overdue and deserved.
And then, true to form, the luck doesn’t last. A looping shot bounced off the crossbar beyond a leaping Kingsbury and fell directly into the path of Christine Sinclair for a simple equalizer.
Then, to add further insult, as well as questions of whether a fair God exists and if so where are they and why aren’t they doing something, in stoppage time Morgan Weaver cuts between two defenders, darts across the box and curls a shot into the far side netting to put Portland ahead.
After another solid save from Bella Bixby, this time on a Trinity Rodman breakaway, the referee blows the final whistle and seals another heartbreaking dropping of points.
NWSL Regular Season
Spirit - 1 (Bixby OG 76’,
Thorns - 2 (Sinclair 84’, Weaver 90+2)
Spirit (4231): Kingsbury; Biegalski, Staab, Brooks, O’Hara; Bailey, Sullivan; Rodman, Sanchez (Feist 74’), Hatch; McKeown
Thorns (4141): Bixby; Klingenberg (McGrady 60’), Sauerbrunn, Hubly, Kuikka; Coffey; Ryan (Weaver 74’), Sinclair, Rodriguez, Sugita, Coffey, Rodriguez; Everett (Beckie 66’)
Spirit - Brooks 48’, Sullivan 63’
Thorns - None