On a windy and chilly night at the Maryland Soccerplex, the Washington Spirit beat the Houston Dash 1-0 thanks to a goal from Joanna Lohman in the first half. Despite Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams' heroic efforts and Houston's opportunities, the Spirit prevailed and continued their five-game undefeated streak. It wasn't the prettiest performance from the Spirit but nonetheless, the team walked away with three points.
Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe; Alyssa Kleiner, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Ali Krieger; Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman, Christine Nairn (Whitney Church 84') ; Diana Matheson (Katie Stengel 89'), Crystal Dunn, Cali Farquharson (Estefania Banini 46’)
The Spirit played against the wind in the first half which proved a challenge since the team relied on long balls over Houston's backline. "It was part of the game plan because they press really high and we didn’t want to give them an opportunity similar to Boston in the first half," Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said. "What ended up happening was we started taking too many touches and slowed the tempo down and started playing out of the back and that got them into the game."
Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson were fluid and potent on the attack for the Spirit and proved dangerous on the flanks. At the beginning, neither team settled into a rhythm and possession bounced back and forth between both sides. Houston's quick counterattacks caught the Spirit backline off guard several times and both teams had substantial gaps between their midfield and defense. Christine Nairn's trademark long distance shot went high in the 6th minute and Dunn's weak shot in the 14th minute skipped wide left.
Defensively, the Spirit struggled with bad passes and dangerous interceptions from the Dash. This can be attributed to both Houston's pressure and the heavy winds but was uncharacteristic for the Spirit's back four this season. Dash forward Rachel Daly intercepted one such pass midway through the half and looked to combine with Chioma Ubogagu only for the ball to go out of bounds, bailing the Spirit out.
After the first half hour, both teams grew increasingly dangerous in front of goal. Dunn put terrific pace on a cross but despite the open space in front of goal, no Spirit player arrived to put it on frame. In the 34th minute, Williams came off her line to collect a Spirit cross but missed. The Spirit failed to create a quality shot in the ensuing scramble and the game remained scoreless. Three minutes later, Daly's threatening header went wide.
Joanna Lohman scored her second goal of the season in the 39th minute, converting her header for what ended up being the game's only goal. After an interchange with Dunn on the right flank, USWNT defender Ali Krieger passed the ball down the flank to Nairn, peeling into space. Nairn powered a cross into the wind from the right corner and Lohman ran into the center of the box, heading the ball past Williams and into the upper-left corner.
In the second half, the Spirit created nearly all of the chances but couldn't put Houston away. Some of that was their own doing but Dash goalkeeper Williams made several acrobatic saves, keeping Houston in the game until the final whistle. In the 73rd minute, Dunn beat the Dash defense, forcing Williams to make a kick save to keep the score 1-0. Two minutes later, Estefania Banini made a clever pass to Dunn but Williams denied Dunn again, saving her close-range shot. With the game coming to a close, Williams parried Banini's shot over the crossbar.
Overall, the Spirit created many chances despite heavy pressure from Houston. Their defense also improved in the second half especially in preventing attacks down the center. Yet the Spirit only converted one of their ten shots and several promising opportunities on offense didn't translate into a final product. Nonetheless, in harsh conditions, they found a way to win for the fourth time in five games this season.
The Spirit lead the NWSL with 13 points after five weeks of play and are 4-0-1. Next week the Spirit face the Portland Thorns in the first of a three-game road trip. Kickoff is Saturday at 10pm Eastern.