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Dominant Washington Spirit see off Sky Blue FC, winning 3-1

The Spirit overcame muggy conditions and an unusual start time to win a game they controlled throughout

Spitfire2485 & Washington Spirit

A dominant Washington Spirit defeated Sky Blue FC 3-1 in a game that was postponed from last night due to severe storms in the area. Estefania Banini opened the scoring for the Spirit in the 27th minute, only for Tasha Kai to convert Sky Blue’s first chance of the game soon thereafter. The Spirit, who controlled play throughout, fought back to win via goals from Cheyna Williams and Alyssa Kleiner.

Washington’s lineup contained no real surprises. Katie Stengel replaced Francisca Ordega - who left last week’s game with an injury - up front, while Caprice Dydasco and Whitney Church switched flanks in the Spirit’s familiar 433.

The Spirit nearly got on the board in the 6th minute. Christine Nairn fired a low corner kick towards the near post, where Estelle Johnson beat her marker to flick the ball into the goalmouth. The play was identical to one the Spirit attempted in last week’s 1-0 loss in New Jersey, and it had a similar outcome: Caroline Casey made a reflex save after seeing the ball late, and despite some chaos inside the six Sky Blue managed to clear before Washington could finish.

A 9th minute cross from Leah Galton forced goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to dive out bravely to prevent Catherine Zimmerman from applying a finish. Unfortunately for Wys, she and Zimmerman collided, with Wys appearing to take a knee to the head. After two or three minutes of attention from the training staff, Wys stayed in the game. After the break, the Spirit caused trouble with another Nairn corner, as Whitney Church nodded the ball back across goal before Sky Blue could clear.

The Spirit were in charge throughout the first 20 minutes, dominating possession while creating opportunities. Estefania Banini’s cross from the left was just an inch or so too high for Stengel in the 18th minute, followed by Cheyna Williams having two shots following a 24th minute corner. The first effort was blocked by the traffic in front of goal, while the second skipped wide of the far post.

Banini capped off the strong start with a 27th minute goal. Church’s pass down the left wing found Stengel in behind, with Sky Blue retreating slowly as a group. Stengel kept the ball in near the endline and laid it back to Joanna Lohman inside the box. Lohman looked to shoot, but seeing she had no angle, she moved the ball along to the top of the box, where Banini arrived to fire a low shot past Stanley.

After a cooling break, though, Sky Blue equalized out of nothing. A punt forward from Caroline Casey was flicked on by Nikki Stanton at midfield. Tasha Kai pressured Megan Oyster for the loose ball, though, forcing a header that went nowhere near close enough for Wys to come out and clear. Kai arrived first, floating a shot over Wys on the edge of the box and into the back of the net in the 33rd minute.

Despite the potentially demoralizing nature of the goal, the Spirit jumped back out in front in the 39th minute. Dydasco advanced far up the right wing in pursuit of Nairn’s pass to put in a low cross for Williams, who spun away from Kristin Grubka to give herself a great chance. From about 10 yards out the rookie made no mistake, slotting the ball across the goal and in at the back post. Scoring her first professional goal was clearly a cathartic moment for Williams, who has been looking more dangerous in recent weeks.

Church was called for a foul on Galton in first half stoppage time - much to the objection of Nairn and the Spirit - which meant a dangerous free kick opportunity for Costa Rica national teamer Raquel Rodriguez. Rodriguez went for goal from about 27 yards out, but Wys had a good read on the ball and claimed it comfortably.

The Spirit fully deserved their lead, holding a massive edge in possession and using it to restrict Galton and Rodriguez, two players who have done well against Washington this season. Despite Taylor Lytle dropping off the front line to give Sky Blue even numbers in central midfield, the Spirit trio of Nairn, Huster, and Lohman were able to control central midfield throughout the first half.

Washington came out looking for a third goal immediately after the second half kicked off. Banini, not for the first time, rounded Erica Skroski to cross for Lohman in the 47th minute. Lohman was in a good spot to add to the Spirit’s lead, but she couldn’t get full power on her shot, allowing Casey to save.

The Spirit had a lovely sequence in the 50th minute, with numerous one-touch passes moving the ball out to Williams on the left. Williams fed the ball back into the middle for Banini, who couldn’t open up a shot despite numerous touches along the top of the box. Sky Blue thought they’d escaped, but Washington retained possession. Dydasco spun Galton like a top with a move to open up a chance to cross, but the resulting shot from Williams went wide of the back post.

Sky Blue was having trouble mounting attacks, but they nearly got level anyway in the 61st minute. A quick surge up the left flank ended with Maya Hayes - who came on as a substitute for Catherine Zimmerman during the first half - slipping Kai in behind the Spirit back four. Kai got Wys to commit to her back post before shooting near post, but Wys left her trailing leg out to make a kick-save.

The Spirit escaped another dangerous chance a minute later. Johnson’s pass put Oyster under intense pressure from both Kai and Hayes, and Kai blocked Oyster’s attempt to clear. In behind the defense, Kai managed to escape Oyster’s attempt to get back and clear before blasting a shot right at Wys, who stayed big to make the save. The ball deflected off Wys and into Dydasco before going less than a yard wide of goal.

Following a bit of a lull in play as the Spirit tried to use their possession to make Sky Blue tire themselves out, the Spirit had a decent chance in the 71st minute. Dydasco - probably having her best game in a Spirit jersey - intercepted a clearing header before playing the ball into space on the wing for substitute Cali Farquharson. Farquson’s driven low cross was dangerous, but in a crowd around the penalty spot Lohman could only shoot wide.

The game became increasingly physical as Sky Blue tried to find an equalizer. Rodriguez fired a free kick well over after a soft foul was given against Washington, while Nairn shot wide in the 79th minute after a cross from the left eventually deflected to her at the top of the box.

The heat took its toll in the late stages, with both teams slowing down in the oppressive conditions. The Spirit brought Ordega in up front before moving into a 451 late in the game. Alyssa Kleiner came in as a left midfielder, while Banini and Farquharson dropped into midfield roles.

Those subs both panned out, albeit in an unexpected manner. Ordega was the lone striker, but ended up making a crucial defensive play in stoppage time, sprinting out to prevent Taylor Lytle from shooting in a good spot at the top of the box.

Then in the 95th minute, with Christy Rampone pushed up as an extra forward for Sky Blue, Kleiner would seal the victory. A long clearance by Oyster was not swiftly dealt with by the tired SBFC defense, and Ordega’s pressure forced Grubka into a mis-hit clearance. The Spirit collected the loose ball, with Banini charging forward before dishing out to the right for Farquharson. The rookie cut the ball back looking to shoot but had the ball poked away. However, the ball went straight to Kleiner, who after a touch sent a rocket past Casey from 22 yards. As with Williams earlier in the game, Kleiner’s goal was the first of her pro career.

Washington’s win pushes them back level with Portland Thorns FC atop the NWSL table with 29 points. The Thorns retain the tiebreaker advantage, but the Spirit have a game in hand on Portland (August 18th’s game against the Houston Dash). Sky Blue remains 3 points out of the playoffs, with the Chicago Red Stars holding the final postseason place at the moment.

Highlights will be added when they become available.