The Washington Spirit survived a late comeback from the Orlando Pride to win 2-1, extending their lead at the top of the NWSL table to six points. Cheyna Williams opened the scoring in the first half before Christine Nairn scored her third goal in two games to double the Spirit's lead, capping off a superb passing sequence. Orlando substitute Sarah Hagen narrowed the Spirit's lead as the Pride challenged Washington by pushing more players forward into the attack, but the Spirit held them off to get the win.
Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, and Ashlyn Harris each returned to their teams after being with the U.S. national team in Brazil. Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra started Whitney Church over Megan Oyster at center back, a move he first tried last week at Houston. The switch didn't necessarily pay off at Houston, and tonight Church occasionally struggled to keep up with Orlando's pace. At the other end, the Pride also struggled with turnovers on defense and a lackluster midfield only made things worse.
Joanna Lohman nearly scored two minutes into the match, but her header off of Nairn's corner kick went just wide of the Pride's goal. Jasmyne Spencer also got an early start to her potent night up top with the Pride and her pass to Kristen Edmonds culminated in Edmonds' shot going high. In the 27th minute, Wys punched Alex Morgan's quick short-range header just wide of goal.
Caprice Dydasco had a great run in the 37th minute that lead to the game's opening goal. She fed Cheyna Williams the ball inside the box, where Williams quickly nutmegged Orlando's Kaylyn Kyle before converting her shot into the the roof of the net.
Ten minutes into the second half, the Spirit doubled their lead with a long sequence of passing that ended with Nairn scoring her third goal of the season. Dydasco started the sequence after stripping a Pride attacker of the ball and the Spirit worked it up the left flank before playing it back to switch the point of attack. Ali Krieger helped work it up the right and then Williams found Katie Stengel at the top of the box. Stengel did a good job holding up play, a strength of hers throughout the night, turning to roll a pass to Nairn. Nairn, practically alone on the left side, buried her shot past Harris to the far post.
The entire sequence on the second Washington goal. pic.twitter.com/CVRcFSx3e7— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) August 27, 2016
After the Spirit's goal, the Pride attack improved and they shifted to a 4-4-2 with substitute Sarah Hagen and Alex Morgan up top. Hagen score the Pride's lone goal of the night in the 71st minute, but it wasn't enough to mount a successful comeback. The Pride worked the ball to the right, where Cami Levin was able to bend a cross in around Dydasco. Hagen snuck behind her mark and got just enough contact to direct Levin's cross past Wys and in.
As the Pride pushed more numbers forward, especially on the wings, the Spirit struggled to adjust to the Pride's new tactics. However in the 73rd minute, the Spirit pushed the Pride on the defensive and forced Harris to make a double save on the Spirit's two shots from distance, with Williams and Lohman both testing the former Spirit 'keeper. Moments before that, Spencer continued her energetic second half for the Pride and nearly scored an equalizer. Williams, staying dangerous throughout her 82 minutes, almost earned a brace in the 80th minute but her shot hit the side netting.
Alex Morgan had one more chance, as the Spirit were caught unaware by a punt upfield from Harris. The ball was allowed to bounce over the defense, but the USWNT star could only direct a shot wide of goal. Morgan also had one last chance to put a cross in, but was too tired to get solid contact on the ball, slicing it out of bounds with virtually the final kick of the game.
With the win, the Spirit could become the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season. To do so, the Spirit need the Seattle Reign to lose or draw against the Portland Thorns tomorrow and Sky Blue FC to beat the Chicago Red Stars as well tomorrow night. The Spirit return home to the Maryland Soccerplex to face the Western New York Flash on September 3.
Highlights will be added when they are available.