The Washington Spirit failed to contain Leah Galton on Saturday night and paid the price. The Sky Blue FC rookie scored a fantastic goal that originated from a Sky Blue goal kick for the game's only tally as the Spirit fell 1-0 on the road. It was the Spirit's third loss of the season and their second loss to Sky Blue FC this year. The Spirit are still level with Portland and have a game in hand on the Thorns, while Sky Blue is now tied with the Chicago Red Stars for the fourth and final playoff spot.
From the beginning, Sky Blue dictated the game and forced the Spirit to be defensive. Nearly all of Sky Blue's chances came through Galton but the Spirit couldn't shut down the English midfielder. Despite missing Sarah Killion (injury) and Raquel Rodriguez (national team duty), Sky Blue played cohesively and challenged the Spirit early on.
In the 24th minute, defender Erin Simon received the ball from a goal kick and passed it to Galton, who ran past three Spirit defenders before burying her shot past Kelsey Wys and into the upper right hand corner. This was the third time in two games against the Spirit that Galton either assisted or scored a goal.
"The first forty minutes was absolutely atrocious. Credit to Sky Blue, they're always going to battle and they sat deep, we played into their hands and were very reactionary and passive in the first forty minutes," said Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra.
Natasha Kai earned a shot at the top of the box moments after Galton's goal but Wys deflected Kai's shot wide of the right post. Washington's best chance of the first half came in the 35th minute when Christine Nairn's shot forced Caroline Casey to punch the ball clear. In the 39th minute, Galton fed Kai the ball at the top of the box, but this time the Spirit stopped Kai in the box before she had a chance to shoot.
Ordega went down with an apparent head or neck injury at the end of the first half. After be tended to be the trainer on the field, she exited the game immediately and was replaced by Katie Stengel. Following the game, Gabarra remarked that the team was planning to replace her at half time but did not provide an update on her condition when asked.
The Spirit's attack was stronger in the second half but still failed to get an equalizer or a win after being down, a common pattern in each of their three losses this season.
Galton nearly got an assist in the 55th minute when she delivered a potent cross to Catherine Zimmerman but Caprice Dydasco cleared the ball to prevent Zimmerman from getting a foot on it.
The Spirit had a series of three scrappy shots during a scramble in the box just after that, but shots from both Joanna Lohman and Cheyna Williams couldn't break through. Galton continued to wreak havoc on the Spirit's backline but she wasn't getting as many chances as she did in the first half thanks in part to the Spirit having more chances to attack.
In the 77th minute, Kai and Dydasco ran into each other in a nasty collision near the midfield. The two were both seen by trainers but each re-entered the game, Kai with a head bandage. Unfortunately for the Spirit, late chances for an equalizer were scarce, and the match ended without another goal.
The Spirit are level on points with Portland, with one more game in hand to take a lead. The Thorns, however, hold the first tiebreaker (head-to-head results). Sky Blue holds a similar advantage over the Red Stars now that those two teams are tied for fourth.
Next week, the Spirit return home to face Sky Blue in their fourth and final match against the New Jersey side this season.