In each of the Washington Spirit's first three games, the team earned a win despite numerous missed opportunities on offense. This Saturday, the Spirit couldn't succeed in spite of their inefficiency. After a wealth of opportunities in the first half and several frantic chances in stoppage time, the Spirit settled for a 0-0 tie at home against Portland Thorns FC.
Spirit Starting XI: Stephanie Labbe; Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner; Joanna Lohman, Diana Matheson, Tori Huster; Cali Farquharson, Crystal Dunn, Estefania Banini
Rookie forward Cali Farquharson earned her first start and Estefania Banini started on the opposite flank. Midfield regular Christine Nairn didn't start due to a left foot contusion but Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra expects her fit for next week's game.
The game started out fast and the Spirit challenged Portland with a heavy press and direct passes. The Spirit earned two chances in the first ten minutes but goalkeeper Adrianna Franch saved both opportunities. In the 24th minute, the Thorns broke through, but Tobin Heath's shot floated over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Portland defender Emily Sonnett earned a yellow card for a slide tackle on Crystal Dunn. Diana Matheson stepped up to take the free kick from left edge of the 18-yard box and Tori Huster's shot was tipped over the crossbar by Franch. On the ensuing corner kick, Krieger headed the ball wide of goal.
In the 33rd minute, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe came off her line to clear a free kick out of traffic but failed, requiring the Canadian to block the follow-up shot with her body. As Labbe retreated back to goal, another Thorns shot went high over the crossbar.
Minutes later, the Maryland Soccerplex erupted in cheers for a Crystal Dunn goal, but the referee ruled Dunn offside to the dismay of the over 4000 Spirit fans. Dunn headed Krieger's cross past Franch, but the goal was taken back. Dunn also shot wide left in the 39th minute before Farquharson also shot off target a minute later. To close out the first half, Dunn's shot in the 43rd minute sailed over the crossbar.
Overall, the Spirit dominated the Thorns in the first half. "They demolished us in the first half, but it wasn’t with soccer it was with pressure and direct play," Portland coach Mark Parsons said. "They owned the first half, but it was choppy and messy because there wasn’t a rhythm." Gabarra thought the Spirit created plenty of chances in the first half, in part due to their grit in the midfield.
In the second half, Portland dictated the game but the game spiraled out of control as both teams grew choppier and increasingly physical. To open the first half, Labbe made a kick save to quickly deny forward Nadia Nadim her first goal of the season.
In the 59th minute, Heath earned an unnecessary yellow card for encroaching on Krieger's free kick. Three minutes later, defender Megan Oyster headed Heath's cross out of bounds. Matheson earned on the Spirit's best opportunities of the night in the 68th minute but her shot from the center of the box went straight to Franch for an easy save. Labbe caught a Thorns corner kick in the 72nd minute and a minute later Franch saved Dunn's right-footed shot to the bottom corner. The two sides struggled to possess the ball for a sustained period of time and neither settled into a rhythm.
A physical and chippy game soon drew dramatic when Tobin Heath roughly fouled Oyster to the ground in the 88th minute. Heath rashly spiked the ball against the field in protest and received her second yellow card of the night. This incident and the other fouls resulted in five minutes of frantic stoppage time. Franch saved Nairn's shot in the early minutes of stoppage. With two minute left in stoppage time, Dunn's shot clanged off the left post to the screams of over 4,000 fans. Nairn, who came on as a substitute, also had a shot go high over the crossbar to keep the score at 0-0.
Gabarra was pleased with is team's performance, especially because he felt the Thorns boasted one of the league's best midfields. "I’m okay with it, we created enough chances to get a goal and we defended really well" he said.
Next Saturday, the Spirit stay in Maryland to face the Houston Dash, who sit in fourth place after Saturday's spate of games. Kickoff is set for 7pm.