After a two-game winning streak, the Washington Spirit faced Angel City FC, for a midweek #NWSLAfterDark tussle. The home team needed the three points to stay within striking distance of the final playoff spot, while the Spirit were looking to build on the recent good vibes from positive results.
Angel City played like a desperate team and got a goal in each half, while the Spirit looked leggy and in need of some on-the-fly problem solving of situations they’d yet to encounter three weeks into life with an interim manager. One boost is that USWNT star midfielder Andi Sullivan returned to the starting XI for the first time since August 27.
Unfortunately, the Spirit encountered an intense high press from Angel City which targeted a backline with Julia Roddar at CB instead of the suspended Amber Brooks. The result was the Spirit gifting a lot of high turnovers and trying to hold on, rather than being able to keep the ball and build the way they’d been able to do versus Gotham and for stretches against San Diego.
The hosts finally got their breakthrough in the 39th minute when a ball over the top was played to Ali Riley making an inverted run into the box, who then slid a perfect ball across the box for a first time smash from Claire Emslie.
Halftime saw Simone Charley come in for Cari Roccaro and Andi Sullivan came off for Bayley Feist as she builds her way back from recovery toward 90-minute fitness.
It took six minutes for Charley to light up the scoreboard. Jasmyne Spencer’s overlapping run found her in space with a defender on their heels. She cut back and played a nice pass into the box which Charley met with her head and redirected into the far side netting.
From there, Angel City sat back to protect their lead and the Spirit began to fight back. However, their breakthrough wouldn’t come until the 88th minute when Ashley Hatch stepped to the spot after winning a penalty. Beating DiDi Haračić from the spot is not at all guaranteed, but Hatch made the keeper guess the wrong way and finished smartly to the right while Haračić dove left.
It was too little too late for the Spirit who picked up their seventh loss of the season. Hatch’s late goal did, however, extend the frustrating and bittersweet truth that the 2022 Washington Spirit have still yet to lose a match by more than one goal. That, plus the ten draws, reveal just how narrow the margins have been, and make the margin between this season and a much, much better one seem tantalizingly close yet also far away.
- Winning Streak Ended. Although it was brief, Washington’s two-game winning streak proved they could handle teams at both ends of the table (San Diego, Gotham). Whether it was the roster changes (due to various injuries across the squad) or the interim head coach, many things have changed since their championship run last season. Even though the Spirit won’t get a chance to defend their championship title, it is refreshing to see the offense start to hum in the way we know it can.
- Playing Hard Despite No Playoff Appearance. I think it’s safe to say that many sports fans, once their team is mathematically eliminated from making playoffs, don’t really expect their team to do much better than they have been earlier in the season. However, the Washington Spirit showed that, despite not clinching a playoff spot, they still wanted to give their all. Whether you believe the season feels like two separate squads from the first half of the season, compared to the second, the Spirit team didn’t rollover and make it easy for Angel City FC to win. Part of a team identity is discovered in moments like this, and this was a good sign. The Spirit have harder tests coming up, as they’re set to face surefire playoff squads Kansas City Current and Houston Dash to end the regular season.
Box Score: 2-1
NWSL Regular Season - Game # 19
Angel City - 2 (Emslie 39’, Charley 51’)
Spirit - 1 (Hatch 88’ [PEN])
Angel City FC (4132): Haračić; Riley(C), Nielsen, Reid, Spencer(Lussi 76’); Weatherholt; Endo, Le Bihan, Roccaro (Charley 45’); Emslie (Vignola 90’), McCaskill (Nabet 77’)
Washington Spirit (433): Kingsbury; Heilferty, Staab, Roddar, Bielgalski(Rodriguez 59’); Bailey, Sullivan(C) (Feist 45’), Sanchez; McKeown, Hatch, Rodman;
Angel City - None
Spirit - Rodman 90+4’