It turns out, the long trip to Seattle was just what the previously tepid Washington Spirit offense needed. Washington earned its first victory of the season, beating the Reign 4-2 at Starfire Stadium.
Washington (1-2-3) finally broke the one-goal barrier and spread the scoring amongst four players. Defenders actually outpaced the forwards, but Tiffany McCarty finally got back on the scoresheet, tallying her second of the year on the decisive goal of the match.
The injury bug bit Seattle (0-5-1) once again, as defender Kate Deines left the match with an apparent ankle injury in the 14th minute. Just prior to the game Elli Reed appeared on crutches, and last weekend Keelin Winters injured her ankle. And of course, goalkeeper Hope Solo is still rehabbing her wrist.
The Reign did manage to strike first. Kristina Larsen lofted a ball across the penalty box to Lindsay Taylor, who inexplicably was only being marked by midfielder Ingrid Wells in wide open space. Taylor brought down the ball and put a nifty half volley past Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who barely had a chance to move on the play. Left outside back Domenica Hodak looked to be out of position, or at least lax on recovering into formation when play shifted from the right side.
Diana Matheson found an equalizer for Washington nearly 30 minutes later, beating defender Emily Zurrer and sending an acrobatic right-footed shot out of reach of Seattle goalkeeper Michelle Betos for her fourth of the year, tying her with Sydney Leroux for the NWSL lead.
Washington has struggled with corner kicks this season, but finally made a break through on a free kick in the 40th minute. After earning the free kick for her team just outside the penalty box, Lori Lindsey sent in a hard shot that Betos couldn't quite handle. Krieger was there for the rebound. She sent in a quick left-footed shot at close range, but Betos tipped it up in the air and Krieger headed it in for her first goal of the season, putting Washington up 2-1.
But the lead was short-lived. Just two minutes into the second half, Nairn worked the ball towards the endline, and sent a cross back far post. Teresa Noyola beat Matheson in the air to send a header past Harris to tie the game 2-2.
Tiffany McCarty notched her second goal of the season in the 56th minute, hitting a far post shot past Betos as she was falling away to put Washington up 3-2.
Messy play marked much of the second half, with both squads earning multiple cautions and fouls. Seattle finished with 15 fouls to Washington's 9 for the game.
Stephanie Ochs, again playing at forward, set up another Spirit free kick with some good ball handling out wide late in the game. Lindsey's fantastic ball in connected with a leaping Tori Huster, who flicked it in to the net for her first goal of the season, solidifying the Spirit lead.
Seattle challenges do not lessen this weekend. On Sunday, the Reign host Sky Blue FC, who beat Portland 1-0 also on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Washington heads into its second of three road games in a row, traveling to nearby Portland for a Sunday match-up with the Thorns.
Believe it or not, with nine goals on the season, Washington has the same number of goals scored as does Portland, with both teams having completed six games. In case you don't remember, one team boasts two of the top goal scorers in the world right now. The other...does not. Washington has spread its scoring among forwards, midfielders and defenders. In some ways, not having a go-to goal-scorer may be benefiting them. Nearly every player seems to understand they must take advantage of any opportunities.
While the Spirit did finally score some goals, including two on set pieces, the play overall was not their best. Seattle is obviously a struggling team right now so it was critical to get the three points. This was maybe the first game of the season Washington was expected to win so it was good to see the team press on and make it happen, especially on the road. But overall, the play was not stellar. Both Reign goals could have been prevented. Ball distribution was not good enough. And McCarty still struggled to truly fit into the offense.
Domenica Hodak is playing with confidence, but her sometimes overly aggressive tactics can be a liability. She nearly gave up another penalty kick on a first half foul just outside the box. I suppose I'd rather see her playing with confidence, even if that means she's going to make some mistakes. But the team will have to deal with the consequences of ill-timed fouls that may be game-changers. I am unsure of the injury status of Toulouse, but I'd sure like to see her in there against Portland. Alex Morgan already earned one penalty from Hodak. I imagine she's preparing her tactics for the re-match Sunday. She'll know exactly how to get Hodak to bite.
Caroline Miller had a solid 30 minutes as a substitute. I like seeing her get in there and mix it up. I keep wondering how to make her a starter, beyond slotting her in for McCarty, which I still think I'd try for a few games. Beyond that, I know it's not really her natural position, but I'd be curious to try her in central midfield for Julia Roberts, who just doesn't have the tenacity and strength to go up against most teams. Roberts does have a little height so it's probably hard to make the decision to remove her from the lineup in that regard.
I guess, just overall, I'd play around with this lineup. Maybe consistency will pay off down the line. But I find myself frustrated at Coach Mike Jorden's lack of experimentation and player management. He's not on this road trip, but I imagine he's still setting the lineups.
The strain to Ali Krieger's right knee was a non-factor. Listed as probable before the game, Krieger started, scored a goal, and looked to be at full speed, especially in the second half chasing down Liz Bogus repeatedly. An exceedingly disciplined player, Krieger's 63rd minute yellow card was only the third ever in her club career (dating back to 2007) and she has none in international play. The camera didn't quite catch what happened, but it looked questionable that she actually clipped Bogus to earn the yellow.
Canadian defender Candace Chapman did not play, though she was not listed on the official NWSL injury report. I would hazard a guess she needed some recovery from her first start last weekend and is preparing to play on Sunday.
Ashlyn Harris wasn't completely tested, but defensive breakdowns hung her out to dry on the two goals. She did manage a strong save on Christine Nairn's free kick in the first half.
Much will be made of the attendance (1,011) at Starfire Stadium. It was a midweek game. Seattle's stars haven't arrived yet. Washington isn't one of the most marquee teams. We all know that. From my chair in Washington, I can attest to the quality of the web stream. And from what I could see, this looks like a good game environment so I hope fans will come out on Sunday when the Reign take on Sky Blue FC.
Finally, this boost of confidence for the Spirit is well-timed, with just two days rest before taking on Portland in the hostile environment of JELD-WEN Field. I'm curious to see how the youngsters react and how the vets get them prepared. Portland will be looking to revenge their mid-week home loss to Sky Blue FC. As I did prior to the first meeting between the Spirit and the Thorns, I believe this will be a good match-up. The two teams proved me right the first time. Portland will be fired up after a loss to Sky Blue, but I look for a scrappy Spirit side to give Portland a good run on Sunday afternoon.