The Spirit (3-14-4, 13 points) not only captured their second win in a row, but also earned a second shutout in front of 4,549 at the Maryland SoccerPlex and a national television audience.
Fans may have been chanting opposing goalkeeper Hope Solo's name Saturday night, but the Spirit's Ashlyn Harris had the last laugh. Harris faced 14 shots and 5 shots on goal, coming up with 5 saves to earn her first clean sheet of the season. Washington head coach Parsons said he believes Harris' performance sent a strong message.
"I think Ashlyn proved why she is one of the best country," said Parsons. "I know she's been doing that week after week, but it's important that she did it on a big night like tonight. I thought she was absolutely incredible, not just with her saves, but what she brings tactically and communication."
With the match still scoreless heading into the final 10 minutes, Matheson tracked a ball after a Spirit throw-in and headed towards goal. Shooting from what looked like a nearly impossible angle, she was able to slot the ball in far post, past Solo in the 83rd minute for her team-leading 8th goal of the season.
"I think it took a few bounces, squirted through their center backs, went off a few shins," said Matheson. "I just tried to put it lower far corner."
Parsons went with an adjusted formation he described as a 4-2-3-1, with two midfielders in a holding position, intended to free up midfielders Matheson and Lupita Worbis, who at times, both played centrally.
Seattle had the edge in possession, but the Washington defense held, with the midfield dropping back often. Ali Krieger, who played her first full 90 after returning from her head July head injury, did battle with US Women's National Team teammate Megan Rapinoe much of the match, keeping the ever-dangerous midfielder in check. Late season signee Marisa Abegg was again solid in central defense.
"Abegg has been incredible from the start," said Harris. "She stepped in--positive attitude, great energy, never skipped a beat. I never questioned her heart and her tenacity. Every game, she is throwing her body left and right. And to do that and not being here--she doesn't know who she's fighting for. It didn't matter."
The Reign (5-13-3, 18 points) were playing their third game in a row on the road, in the midst of a 10-day trip away from home that included three flights. Head coach Laura Harvey said her team didn't play well, but gave credit to Washington for defending well.
"We've got a lot of work to do. We had obviously a patch in the middle of the season where we did really well," Harvey said of Seattle's season. "Finishing 7th in the league is not something that we want to do. So we need to make sure that we look at that, reflect on it and build for next year."
There was a definite feeling of joy and relief to get this win in front of the large home crowd, and one that did not include a weather-shortened game.
"I'm really happy I'm happy for my team. They fought out there," said Harris of the win. "They did not stop working. I give all credit to the 10 players in front of me and the players on the bench. We deserved it today. We're happy to do it in front of our fans.
Washington concludes the season next August 18 at home against Sky Blue FC, a club that has beaten the Spirit three times this season and will have a home playoff game on the line.
"We're going for another win at home," Matheson said. "I know we felt like the last two games against them, we felt like we should have done better."
Two wins in a row. As expected, the Spirit hit their stride right as the season is coming to close. Looking ahead at the schedule at the time Mark Parsons took over, this run of games looked to set Washington up well to end the season on a more positive note. Win or lose next week, they have accomplished that. Considering where things were on June 28, there's not much more anyone could reasonably expect from this season. It's nearly time to look to the future. But we don't do that quite yet.
Let's talk about Marisa Abegg. Both Ashlyn Harris and Parsons spoke about her after the match. But her inclusion in the team in this home stretch has been seamless. Washington should certainly look to sign her for next season. She was a Herman Trophy runner-up at Stanford, played for FC Gold Pride and also has local ties, having played for the Washington Freedom in 2010 and DC United Women in 2012. Beg the question, why wasn't she considered prior to the start of the NWSL season? Parsons said she was on his radar day one when he took over. So a return seems likely.
Ashlyn Harris had her best overall match of the season, earning her first clean sheet. She was extremely vocal in all the right ways, came up big on several saves, and looked completely in control the entire match. At some point, I'll count how many different back lines she has played behind this season. But suffice it to say, it's been in double digits. She hasn't had an easy go of it all season. But hasn't given up on herself or the team, and that should be noted.
The rest on Wednesday did Lori Lindsey a lot of good. She was move active and more effective holding the ball in the center. Krieger matched up with Megan Rapinoe for much of the game, but Lindsey had her fair share of challenges from one of the world's most creative midfielders. And she held up to the test surprisingly well.
Diana Matheson was more dynamic on and off the ball than she has been in probably months, and that is a welcome return to form. I suspect she is finally healthy again, after the lingering ankle injury. There's been plenty of talk of Washington's roster at the start of the season, but Matheson was a heck of a nice allocation. I'll withhold the rest of my comments on the roster until end of season recaps.
So on to the last game. Thanks to those have been reading all season. This hasn't been the easiest season to cover, or to read about, I imagine. Looking forward to one last go of it on Sunday.