A 2-0 home win from a expected to make the playoffs over a side lingering at the bottom wasn't the story line for most of Saturday's match. Until the Washington Spirit scored two scrappy goals in the final eleven minutes of the game to beat FC Kansas City, it was pretty even between both sides. FC Kansas City's ten points from eleven games obscures a tendency to let a good performance slip away, and until tonight FCKC hadn't lost a game by more than one goal.
So was the Spirit a dominant side that put away a stout defense? Not exactly. For most of the first half play was in FC Kansas City's favor and a scoreless draw looked the likely result. The Blues could slip a pass or two behind the backline missing its two national team players but none of their shots particularly tested backup goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, who earned the start in place of Stephanie Labbe, who is away with Canada's Olympic team. Wys made a save in the 18th minute from a Shea Groom volley but that was Kansas City's best chance of the night. In the first ten minutes, the Blues earned two good chances but were ruled offside both times.
The Spirit dictated the tempo which was incredibly slow except for a couple quick counter-attacks. Washington had good build-up and combinations in the first half, in sharp contrast to a flat attack against Sky Blue last week. In the 16th minute, Katie Stengel fed a good through ball to Cali Farquharson, but the rookie couldn't get to it. Alyssa Kleiner also provided some valuable offensive play from left back during the early going.
The Spirit tried a lot of balls over the top during the first half, and it nearly succeeded for the team in the 32nd minute. Estefania Banini put a well-struck ball over Kansas City's backline but Stengel fumbled it and couldn't get a shot. A minute earlier, Banini and Farquharson also had a good combination but couldn't produce a shot. Faruqharson created a dangerous chance for herself in the 34th minute but she didn't take a second touch when receiving the pass from Christine Nairn and her shot went very wide.
"I think we were a lot more organized and played more as a group. In the previous match it seemed to be more individuals and reacting," said head coach Jim Gabarra. While the abysmal attack that pervaded June isn't exactly a great standard, the Spirit definitely showed a more potent attack, even without Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half were indistinguishable from the first, though FCKC went close when Shea Groom's header floated its way onto the crossbar before Washington could clear in the 54th minute. Soon thereafter, Gabarra's decision to bring in Francisca Ordega created havoc for Kansas City. Ordega replaced Stengel in the 59th minute and provided increased speed up top and a more dynamic attack.
In the 72nd minute, Groom and Wys collided as Groom chased for a through ball. Megan Oyster stopped Groom's shot from rolling into an empty net but it didn't matter since the referee awarded a free kick to Wys. Despite the hard collision, both players appeared to be just fine.
Gabarra also sent Cheyna Williams in (replacing Farquharson) and the rookie forward provided good service from her flank. In the 77th minute she sent a dangerous cross but it was blocked by a Kansas City defender.
For all the Spirit's progress with combinations and a slow build-up, the opening goal came from a mess in the penalty area. Initially, Ordega fell while receiving a pass inside the box. Joanna Lohman fell as well trying to finish the scramble off, but the ball ended up at Ordega's feet and she slipped it by goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
Six minutes later, the Spirit scored again as the result of another melee in the box. Following a corner kick, Lohman nodded the ball towards goal. Ordega had her shot blocked on the goal line, but Tori Huster was on hand to poke a left-footed shot into the roof of the net from the doorstep. It was only her third goal for the Spirit, but Huster is often the silent midfield force behind the Spirit's wins.
On her goal, Huster said she "definitely roofed it" in order to prevent a Kansas City defender from clearing it. "For Tori to get something under her column, I think it's a credit to all her hard work and determination out there on the field," said Nairn.
Washington didn't let up the pressure and Williams nearly added another before the final whistle. Lohman put Williams into a good spot, and the Florida St. product powered a shot on goal that Barnhart did well to save.
The Spirit play their final game of a four-game home stand next Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars.