Christine Nairn broke her scoring drought tonight, scoring twice in the Washington Spirit's 2-1 victory over the Houston Dash. With the win, the Spirit claim sole possession of first place in the NWSL, three points clear of the Portland Thorns and are now level with most of the table in terms of games played.
With the exception of Ali Krieger, both teams played without their Olympians, while Dash forward Rachel Daly was in camp with the England national team. Spirit center back Megan Oyster, who had started every game for the Spirit since joining the team last year, was benched in favor of Whitney Church. It's still unclear whether Oyster picked up a late injury or if the move was due to sub-par performances from her lately but it was a puzzling move from head coach Jim Gabarra.
The game got off to a shaky start, with both teams looking a bit rusty from the Olympic break. In the seventh minute, the Dash had a dangerous chance but Estelle Johnson slid backwards to block the shot with her body. The Spirit's midfield started to look stronger as the half progressed and mounted dangerous attacks.
Nearly a half hour into the match, rookie forward Cheyna Williams broke through the Dash defense and was taken down in the box by Cami Privett. It was a bit of a soft call, but Christine Nairn nonetheless stepped up to take the spot kick. Nairn, who had just come back on the field after dealing with a shoulder injury, converted her shot to the bottom left corner. Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger dove the right way but Nairn's 31st minute penalty was well struck.
Minutes later, Nairn's corner kick nearly turned into a second goal for the Spirit. Katie Stengel headed Nairn's service initially, followed by Williams, and then Stengel again from close-range but Henninger made a quick save.
In the second half, the Dash started targeting Church more with their attacks and started to earn more dangerous chances. Minutes into the second half, Kealia Ohai connected with Chioma Ubogagu who fed to it to Caity Heap whose shot was blocked by Johnson. Ubogagu also earned a shot two minutes later but it went wide. In the 56th mintue, Melissa Henderson slipped a pass behind Caprice Dydasco. Ubogagu ran in but Wys came off her line to smother Henderson's dangerous ball in behind the Spirit backline.
In the 64th minute, Nairn scored a stunning goal from distance to double the Spirit's lead. A kick from Wys was eventually picked up by Nairn near the midfield line. Seeing Henninger off her line, Nairn blasted a 40 yard rocket over Henninger to make the score 2-0. Nairn is capable of that kind of strike, but the goal was an encouraging one since it had been over a year between non-penalty kick goals for the Annapolis native.
Dash midfielder Amber Brooks started to become part of Houston's attack and helped the Dash earn more opportunities towards the end of the game. Still, it was nearly the Spirit with the game's next goal. Francisca Ordega, who replaced Williams in the 65th minute, nearly scored in the final minutes but her effort - which beat Henninger -went just wide.
In the 90th minute, Houston pulled a goal back. Dash midfielder Denise O'Sullivan sent a long ball to substitute Stephanie Ochs on the right flank. Ochs whipped in a driven cross to Ohai, who converted it from point-blank range at the back post.
Despite the late reply from Houston, the Spirit managed to hang on to their lead and close out the game. Neither the attack or defense was particularly strong but considering the players the Spirit were missing it was an impressive effort. One strong area was the midfield where the trio ofNairn, Joanna Lohman, and Tori Huster excelled.
Next Friday, the first place Spirit travel to Florida to take on the seventh place Orlando Pride.
Highlights will be added when they become available.