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Match Recap: Spirit defeat FC Kansas City 2-1 to Remain in Playoff Contention

After falling behind early, goals from Christine Nairn and Kerstin Garefrekes, both assisted by Lisa De Vanna, lift a resilient Washington side to victory over FC Kansas City Wednesday night in front of 2,744 at the Soccerplex in Boyds, Md.

Cynthia Hobgood

In what can only be described as a stunning turnaround from the woeful season that was 2013, the Washington Spirit (9-8-4, 31 points) have surged into third placed in the NWSL with three games remaining.

The Spirit sit six points behind FC Kansas City in second place, just one point ahead of Portland and three ahead of Chicago, the team's opponent this Saturday. Much has been made of Washington's negative goal differential, but the fact remains this is a gritty team that gets the job done, often when you least expect it.

It was no different Wednesday night. Up against an offense highlighted by the likes of Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez, and Sarah Hagen, combined with a defense anchored by Becky Sauerbrunn, walking away with three points was no small task for Washington.

In the early part of the game, the slow pace lulled Washington just enough for KC to strike. Sauerbrunn stepped up to win a ball at midfield, dribbled forward and dumped off to Sarah Hagen, drawing Washington defender Niki Cross and midfielder Christine Nairn. Hagen deftly passed back to Sauerbrunn, who streaked into the box trailed by Washington defender Ali Krieger, but chipped the ball past Ashlyn Harris hovering at the six yard box to take the 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.

Washington's defense held tight the rest of the half, while the offense only mustered two shots on goal -- though one was a real rounder from Kerstin Garefrekes in the 27th minute, clanging off the post.

"The first half was one of the slowest games for both teams we've seen," said Parsons. "Both teams kicked the ball out of play for 20 minutes, then both teams looked better. There was not much pace to it, not much aggression."

In a move to inject energy and intensity, Parsons subbed in forward Lisa De Vanna for Danesha Adams at the half. The move paid off in the 49th minute after Nairn corner kick. With the ball ricocheting around in front of goal, De Vanna deftly saved the ball from going out of bounds on the end line and crossed to Garefrekes. Her header shot right past Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart for the equalizer.

"Lisa caused havoc every time she even looked at the ball," said Parsons. "She attracts everyone towards her, dishes, and gives other people space like she did with the two assists or she gets one-on-one and tears past people on the dribble or in behind."

Washington maintained offense pressure on Kansas City after the goal, something the club struggled with earlier in the season. In the 67th minute, De Vanna controlled the ball inside the 18 yard box, finding Nairn open at the top of the box. Nairn's left-footer curled around Sauerbrunn and Barnhart for her fifth goal of the season, putting Washington up 2-1.

It was all Washington from that point till the whistle blew, out-shooting Kansas City 5-3 in the second half. The additions of Garefrekes and De Vanna have been literal game-changers for Washington, and it was never more evident than last night's game. While De Vanna adds speed and aggression, Garefrekes brings a technical dimension that not all NWSL teams currently possess.

"A lot of the teams in the league are just kick and run, who's more athletic, who's faster. But when we get it down and play, we can compete with anyone," said Nairn. "We're not always going to be the biggest and the fastest, but we're one of the best soccer teams in this league."

The Spirt now most make a quick turn-around to prepare for the Red Stars, who will be on a week of rest Saturday. With both teams fighting for playoff qualification, it's likely to be a battle. Washington one each of the previous matches 1-0, both on the road so they will own the head-to-head record, regardless. But both teams need points in order to hold off Portland.

"Now we're focused on Chicago; we love playing against them because we hate playing against them," Parsons said. "They are a really hard, tough team. They play good football. They've added some really dangerous players."

Washington has three games remaining: At home Saturday vs Chicago; August 9 at Seattle; and August 16 at home against Sky Blue FC.

Boxscore

GOALS

1

2

F

FC Kansas City (11-6-4)

1

0

1

Washington (9-8-4)

0

2

2

SCORING SUMMARY

Goal

Time

Team

Goal Scorer

Assists

Note

1

18

FC Kansas City

Becky Sauerbrunn

Sarah Hagen

2

49

Washington

Kerstin Garefrekes

Lisa De Vanna

3

67

Washington

Christine Nairn

Lisa De Vanna

CAUTIONS AND EJECTIONS

None

SUBSTITUTIONS

Time Team OUT IN

46             Washington                     #99 Danesha Adams                          #24 Lisa De Vanna

46             FC Kansas City               #5 Liz Bogus                                        #19 Katrina Gorry

46             FC Kansas City               #10 Frances Silva                                #15 Erika Tymrak

58             FC Kansas City               #24 Sarah Hagen                                #8 Amy Rodriguez

74             Washington                     #6 Lori Lindsey                                     #4 Yael Averbuch

88             Washington                      #7 Christine Nairn                               #28 Jordan Angeli

SHOTS

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

2

10

12

Washington

7

9

16

SHOTS ON GOAL

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

2

3

5

Washington

2

5

7

SAVES

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

2

3

5

Washington

1

3

4

CORNER KICKS

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

4

3

7

Washington

1

3

4

OFFSIDES

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

1

0

1

Washington

1

2

3

FOULS

1

2

F

FC Kansas City

3

5

8

Washington

1

3

4

Officials: Referee: Kristen Salazar

Asst. Referee: Adrienne McDonald; Jeffrey Skinker

Fourth Official: Matthew Richardson

Attendance: 2744