A rough NWSL season for the Washington Spirit ended Saturday night with a tight 3-2 loss against the Seattle Reign. USWNT winger Mallory Pugh netted a brace for Washington in the first half only for Seattle to mount a comeback, scoring the winning goal with only a couple minutes left on the clock. The defeat means that the Spirit finish the 2017 season in last place, giving them possession of the first overall pick in January’s college draft.
Seattle had the upper hand in the first few minutes, but Meggie Dougherty Howard and Pugh both offered up early shots. Pugh provided most of the Spirit’s chances early on, navigating the Reign’s midfield adeptly. Washington opened up some holes in the Reign defense by switching the point of attack frequently. Still, the Spirit had a bit of getting the ball of of their own half and some defensive clears quickly ended up at the foot of a Reign player.
After some even exchanges, Pugh broke the game open in the 27th minute. As the Spirit pushed upfield with numbers, Dougherty Howard showed her vision with a diagonal ball to Pugh that let the 19 year old show off her speed before rounding Seattle ‘keeper Madalyn Schiffel and finishing before the Reign defense could recover.
Washington started to control the game a bit more, as Cali Farquharson forced a save out of Schiffel soon thereafter. Pugh then made it 2-0 in the 32nd minute thanks to a smooth assist from former Reign midfielder Havana Solaun. Solaun played a give-and-go with Dougherty Howard that tore open the Reign defense, sending Solaun in on Schiffel. Solaun waited for Schiffel’s advance before slotting the ball across the goalmouth to a wide open Pugh, who tapped the ball into the empty net.
Seconds into the second half, Tori Huster hit a hard shot that Schiffel punched over the bar. The game was pretty back and forth in the opening minutes of the second half, as Katie Johnson’s close-range shot was deflected onto the post by DiDi Haracic in the 50th minute.
Dougherty Howard had a great opportunity in the 55th minute, as Pugh rewarded her run up the middle with an outside of the foot pass. Dougherty Howard won the race to the ball, but her shot from an angle was blocked by Schiffel. Pugh had a shot at a hat trick narrowly miss, before a wonderful turn from Farquharson was followed by a 61st minute shot that smacked the outside of the post.
Cheyna Williams, who came on for Farquharson shortly after that effort, played a big part in another Spirit shot off the woodwork. This time, Williams showed some quick thinking by getting to a loose ball and sending Dougherty Howard through. Dougherty Howard fired before former Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn could arrive, but could only watch as the ball skipped off the foot of the post and carom away.
2017 has been cruel to the Spirit, and those misses would come back to haunt the home side. Rumi Utsugi’s long ball was perfectly placed for Jess Fishlock, who slashed in behind Whitney Church to nudge the ball into the Spirit box. Haracic came for it, but couldn’t get there in time, allowing Fishlock to chip her and pull a goal back in the 71st minute.
Washington had the better of play and was doing a much better job of not only keeping possession but also getting shots off, something that the Spirit have struggled with all year long. And yet, it was Seattle who struck again. The goal was similar, as this time Fishlock sent a pass in over the top. Larissa Crummer broke an attempt to trap her offside, getting in behind Caprice Dydasco before chipping a shot over Haracic, who had started to come for the ball only to hesitate.
Washington went looking for a goal to regain their lead, but nothing quite panned out. Then, in the 90th minute, Crummer snuck past Dydasco on the right flank and sent a low cross into a crowded box. Johnson took a touch to keep it moving, where Kiersten Dallstream tried to box out Kassey Kallman to turn and shoot. The ball escaped her, but fell right to Fishlock, who was unmarked from 12 yards and had no problem firing home the game-winner.
In a way it was a proper summation of the Spirit’s season, as even a good performance was undone by bad luck, injuries (Washington had just 15 players in uniform for this game), and a more ruthless opponent.