The Washington Spirit survived a panic in the early second half to beat the Western New York Flash 3-0 in Rochester, New York tonight. Diana Matheson scored in the opening minutes and converted a penalty kick in the second half to double the Spirit's lead. The Flash, after numerous chances of their own, conceded an own goal from a Christine Nairn free kick in the 81st minute for the third goal.
Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe; Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner; Joanna Lohman, Tori Huster, Christine Nairn; Cheyna Williams, Crystal Dunn, Diana Matheson
Rookie forward Cheyna Williams earned her first start tonight and Alyssa Kleiner, in a battle with Caprice Dydasco for minutes, maintained her spot at left back. Crystal Dunn moved to a central role instead of Katie Stengel. The lineup change proved effective for the Spirit and Matheson combined well with Dunn.
Dunn made an unbelievable pass in the 4th minute to give the Spirit an early lead over the Flash. Christine Nairn brought the ball up the right flank and passed it off to Dunn. Dunn, with her back to goal, turned under pressure and executed a long diagonal pass with the outside of her right foot. Matheson, running in alone on the left side of the box, calmly finished to the far post.
Minutes later, Stephanie Labbe tipped a long-range shot from Flash midfielder Samantha Mewis over the crossbar. In the half hour following the Spirit's opening goal, the team had two good chances but failed to convert either of them. The Spirit experimented with short corner kicks against a taller New York side, though they only ended up with two such opportunities.
In the 35th minute, Labbe made a nearly lethal error for the Spirit. The likely starter for Canada in this summer's Olympics came off her line to punch away a cross but didn't make good contact in traffic. Flash forward Halimatu Ayinde's shot on an empty net from eighteen yards out went high, allowing the Spirit to maintain their lead.
Five minutes later, Spirit midfielder Joanna Lohman conceded a free kick in the center of the field around 25 yards from goal. Labbe was well positioned and made a clean save. As the Flash settled into the game, the Spirit played more defensively until halftime.
Early in the second half, the Flash hit the right post twice inside a minute. In the 51st minute, the Flash earned a soft penalty kick after Megan Oyster shielded Adriana Leon from getting to the ball. Mewis, who converted her penalty kick in the season opener against FC Kansas City, stepped up to the spot. Labbe dove the wrong direction but Mewis' shot clanged off the right post and back out into the fray of Spirit defenders who cleared the ball. Less than a minute later, Taylor Smith - in acres of space on the Spirit's left side - beat Labbe but her shot from four yards out hit the right post.
Following the minute of panic and sheer luck for the Spirit, the match grew increasingly physical. In the 64th minute, Matheson took the ball from defender Abby Erceg and chipped her fellow Canadian Sabrina D'Angelo, but her shot landed on the top netting.
Kleiner earned a foul in the 81st minute, giving Nairn a chance to send in a free kick from the left flank. Nairn's service was deflected off the head of the Flash defender in the wall before the Flash conceded an own goal for the third goal of the match. Katie Stengel, who had entered earlier as a sub, may have gotten the final touch in her pursuit of the loose ball.
Washington held onto the lead from there, maintaining the NWSL's only perfect record. Next Saturday, the Spirit return home to face former head coach Mark Parsons and the Portland Thorns at 7pm.
At long last, here are the highlights: