It was another frustrating end to a match for the Washington Spirit but never mind that for now, because some good things happened as well. While the table might not provide any hints, the Spirit maintain the ability to be devilishly entertaining and one of the toughest opponents in the league. We know, we know, here’s Annie Elliott and André Carlisle to explain:
Hang it in The Louvre
Let’s all just take a minute to appreciate this Washington Spirit goal, a classic collaboration between Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, and Ashley Sanchez.
The play starts with a long pass from Aubrey Kingsbury, which is headed down just past the halfway line. Rodman maneuvers herself between a Houston player and the ball and immediately flicks it behind her with a backheel pass into the path of Ashley Sanchez, while continuing her own run forward.
Sanchez scoops up the ball and passes it straight ahead to the front of the box. Rodman races to meet it and makes a perfect first-touch cross to Hatch, who doesn’t even have to change her stride to knock the ball past Houston GK Jane Campbell and into the net.
It’s a beautiful play that requires speed and skill from all three players, who seem to have no trouble evading Houston’s defenders. Anticipating where their teammates will be and perfectly placing the ball to progress toward goal highlights the ever-present potential of the trio’s trust and chemistry.
That chemistry has not always translated into goals this season, but when these three work well together, it’s such a joy to watch. ✍️ -Annie Elliott
Hatch heating up
Last year’s golden boot winner notched her sixth and seventh goals of the season against Houston. The two goal flurry gave her three in her last three appearances (two starts), and have been the only three this season to have Hatch, Ashley Sanchez, Tara McKeown and Trinity Rodman on the pitch at the same time.
Hatch is at her best when she’s manipulating the spaces between preoccupied or panicked defenders. This is a massively complementary skill when surrounded by creators like Sanchez and Rodman. According to American Soccer Analysis, Rodman leads all players in the regular season with 3.75 expected assists, while Sanchez sports an impressive 2.49. The only other teammates in the top 15 are Reign’s Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle and Sofia Huerta, and North Carolina’s Carson Pickett and Debinha.
McKeown plays an interesting role as well. The forward has lines up as the top-most player in the Spirit’s 4231, but after kickoff drops into midfield to do a host of other jobs. Against the Dash the vast majority of McKeown’s actions occurred in the Spirit’s defensive half. In the phase of play before Hatch’s first goal, McKeown tucked into midfield to shadow Shea Groom above the backline while the Dash had possession. Once the Spirit gained control of the ball, she filled the left forward spot while Rodman shifted to the other side of the pitch to create an overload and get closer to Sanchez.
Hatch’s two goals against the Dash, assisted by Rodman then Sanchez, suggests last year’s golden boot winner is back to doing what she does best: decoding possibilities and turning them into goals. ✍️ -André Carlisle
The best bottom table team you may ever see
By now you may have heard that the Washington Spirit have ten draws and are winless since the first day of their regular season, May 1. This hasn’t been a good season by any measure for any team, but especially for a team that stormed through competition in the latter half of last season and was lifting the NWSL Championship trophy after the final whistle of the year. After seventeen matchdays the Spirit sit second from bottom, but they’re also probably the best bottom table team you’ll ever see.
The full truth of the Spirit season is that it’s been brutally cruel (exacerbated by another coach firing and players having to issue yet another statement). Though postgame Andi Sullivan didn’t want to lean on excuses, stating “This is the NWSL,” some context matters if only for explanation.
Beyond the brutal early season schedule and a barrage of injuries, every Spirit loss has been by just one goal. Out of the ten draws, the Spirit scored the equalizing goal in just three, and have had three wins snatched away in the 88th minute or later.
Normally, teams wallowing in the basement of a league table have suffered at least a few lopsided defeats — the Spirit have none. Racing Louisville, just one point above the Spirit, was beaten 4-0 this weekend; and, at the very bottom, Gotham has been handed a 4-0, 5-0, 4-1 and a couple 3-0s. Losses and draws are often earned just as much as wins, but the Spirit’s margins tell of a team that’s still difficult to overcome. In fact, a tally of points gifted to opponents through various late defensive and/or goalkeeping breakdowns reaches thirteen.
It seems silly to note that a team that won the championship last season is actually good, but needing to say it anyway crystallizes how weird this season has been. ✍️ -André Carlisle