The Washington Spirit earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sky Blue FC this Saturday, lifting the team into first place after the second week of NWSL action. Ali Krieger scored the opening goal for the Spirit in the waning minutes of the first half after a misplaced cross went on frame. Ten minutes into the second half, Crystal Dunn slipped a through ball to Diana Matheson who in turn slipped in underneath goalkeeper Caroline Casey to double the Spirit's lead. In the 66th minute, Maya Hayes scored for Sky Blue but the Spirit held onto the lead to gain their first road win of the season.
Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe; Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner; Joanna Lohman, Tori Huster, Christine Nairn; Crystal Dunn, Katie Stengel, Diana Matheson
The Spirit posted the same starting lineup from last week's win over the Boston Breakers save for two changes: Alyssa Kleiner replaced Caprice Dydasco at left back and Matheson started over Estefania Banini up front.
Similarly to last week, the Spirit struggled to convert their scoring opportunities in the first half. In the sixth minute, Matheson delivered a cross to Dunn in the 18-yard box. Dunn failed to square her hips to the goal and her shot went across the box before Christie Rampone cleared it out.
Six minutes later, forward Katie Stengel's shot went well over the goal and into the parking lot. Stengel also earned a great header for the Spirit in the 25th minute but her shot went wide.
Coach Jim Gabarra's side pressed hard in the first twenty minutes and dominated the run of play. As the first half wore on, though, the Spirit struggled to control Sky Blue's attacks down the flanks. In the 24th minute, Kelley O'Hara delivered a nearly lethal cross for Sky Blue but midfielder Tori Huster cleared for Washington.
Five minutes before halftime, Huster passed to Krieger to start a Spirit attack down the right flank. Krieger hit some combination of a shot and a cross from the corner of the 18-yard box which floated into top left corner for the opening goal.
In the dying seconds of the first half, Sky Blue's Taylor Lytle cleared the ball off the goal line to prevent a second goal for the Spirit following a corner kick.
The Spirit kept at it after halftime, nearly scoring a second goal in the 48th minute. Matheson and Stengel snuck behind Sky Blue's backline and Matheson played the ball off to Stengel. Stengel took a poor touch instead of shooting and Rampone cleared it to keep the Spirit lead to one goal. Less than a minute later, Casey punched out Matheson's left foot shot to the near post.
In the 56th minute, the Spirit finally capitalized on one of their many opportunities of the night. Dunn, running through the middle, delivered a clean through ball to Matheson. The Spirit's all-time leading scorer nutmegged Casey with her first touch to double the Spirit's lead.
Sky Blue played well in the midfield but struggled to translate that into a goal. After Stephanie Labbe saved a header from Natasha Kai in the 64th minute, the New Jersey side put a shot past her two minutes later. Sky Blue midfielder Raquel Rodriguez started the attack and slipped the ball to Lytle. Lytle passed to the onrushing Maya Hayes, who split the Spirit's two center backs and converted her shot.
Minutes later, fullback Erin Simon's looping cross hit the crossbar and went out of bounds as Sky Blue came to life. At the other end, rookie forward Chenya Wiliams took an extra touch and Simon slide tackled to deny the Florida State product a shot in her NWSL debut.
In the 85th minute, Rodriguez hit a curving left-footed shot from the top of the box but Labbe made a diving save to keep the Spirit in the lead. Despite having more defending to do, the Spirit closed out the game to earn a 2-1 win on the road over Coach Gabarra's former side. With two wins in as many games, the Spirit top the league going into the third week of NWSL action.
This Friday, the Spirit travel to Rochester to take on the Western New York Flash at 7pm.