Seven days after their 4-3 win over the San Diego Wave, the Washington Spirit faced the NY/NJ Gotham FC at Audi Field and did something they hadn’t done all season: go on a winning streak. The Spirit dominated the balance of play throughout the game and Tara McKeown’s second goal in as many games and Ashley Sanchez’s late goal gave Washington a rather comfortable 2-0 win.
With the Spirit’s seemingly refreshed offense, the match started out with them doing their best to keep their playoff hopes alive. At the three minute mark, Rodman had a header that went high over the crossbar, but that shot would set the tone for the match. Rodman was all over the field, creating turnovers, defending when necessary, setting up her teammates for shots on goal.
The Spirit were proving they weren’t going to go down without a fight.
Although there were scoring opportunities and great saves, the highlight of the first half came at the 22nd minute mark. Throughout Audi Field, the Washington Spirit’s home fans and away fans, all started chanting, “You can’t fine us!” Many of the Gotham fans chanting were choosing this time to show their solidarity with suspended (and fined) Spirit defender, Amber Brooks. The moment didn’t take away from the game, but it did add to the atmosphere.
Shortly after the chanting filled the 22nd minute, the two teams, with missed and saved scoring opportunities from both sides, ended the first half scoreless.
Early in the second half, the Spirit held all the momentum. At the top of the 51st minute McKeown scored to give the Spirit the first goal of the game. A fantastic curled in ball from Ashley Sanchez found McKeown free in the right side of the box. McKeown attempted a fizzing low cross but it was deflected straight back to her, so she kicked the ball directly into the net instead.
Determination.— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) September 18, 2022
Tara McKeown scores for a second-straight game. pic.twitter.com/0gvmVtIHsB
Though the match was just 1-0, the Spirit resisted their developed habit of dropping too deep and instead remained in positions to break up play and break at goal. Anything can happen in these moments, regardless of tactics, so the Spirit really needed a second goal to avoid another win turning into a draw in the final minutes.
In the 86th minute Ashley Sanchez provided that goal, with an assist from Gotham goalkeeper Michelle Betos. Sanchez pressured defender Ellie Jean to play back to Betos then curled her run toward the keeper. Betos took a much too heavy touch from a good pass back from Jean and Sanchez accelerated to steal possession and roll into an open net.
Sadly, despite recent wins and impressive performances, the Spirit were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, losing their chance to defend their championship title.
- The Spirit Offense Brought Back To Life. Washington, fresh off a thrilling 4-3 win over the San Diego Wave, suddenly has an attack that looks more alive than it has all season. We can’t be sure what caused the seemingly drastic offensive change, but ever since their 2-2 draw against the Houston Dash, the Spirit seem much closer to the team they were last year.
- The Defending Champs Miss the Playoffs. After their 16-game winless streak to start the season, the Spirit won two games back-to-back and for a brief moment gave themselves narrow hope of making the postseason to defend their title. However, even with their 2-0 win over NY/NJ Gotham, the Spirit’s pile of draws and months between wins put them in position to need a lot of help. Unfortunately that help didn’t come, a fact that interim head coach Albertin Montoya was notified of during the postmatch press conference. Montoya slumped his shoulders and said, with a wry but pained smile, “Thanks for ruining my night.”
- Amber Brooks’ Absence Filled With Memes and A Chant. As some fans chanted during the 22nd minute of the match, a few had their middle fingers up, mimicking what the fined and suspended Washington Spirit defender, Brooks did last game against the San Diego Wave. There’s no way to tell if the reaction to Brooks’ gesture would have been so lively (and meme filled) had she not scored two goals against the Wave that day, but the standard of refereeing throughout the league has impacted multiple teams across the league. That all combined with an obviously incorrect call, gave Brooks widespread support from fanbases even beyond the Spirit’s — with some fans even offering to pay her fine.
Box Score | NWSL Regular Season - Game # 18
Washington Spirit - 2 (McKeown 51’, Sanchez 86’)
NJ/NY Gotham FC - 0
Spirit (4231): Kingsbury; Heilferty, Staab, Roddar, Bielgalski; Feist, Bailey; McKeown, Sanchez (Sheva 87’), Rodman (Elwell 92’); Hatch
Gotham (4231): Betos; Dorsey(C), Johnson, Krieger, Smith (Smith 45’); Pickett, Torres; Kawasumi (Sheehan 70’), Mewis, Monaghan (Yokoyama 79’); Onumonu (Purce 45’)
Spirit - Staab 33’, Hatch 79’
Gotham - Monaghan 29’