The Washington Spirit manage to scrape a tie against the Orlando Pride, picking up the club’s first point of the 2017 season. Despite the Pride looking like the better team in the second half, the Spirit went up 1-0 thanks to Line Sigvardsen Jensen’s header. Unfortunately, Washington couldn’t hang out, conceding a late equalizer to Danica Evans.
Compounding an ongoing trend, Spirit forward Katie Stengel exited the game on a stretcher due to a right knee injury in the first half. As of Saturday night, the Spirit had no update on Stengel’s condition.
Washington played a 3-4-1-2 as they did at kickoff last week, but there were changes within the team. Sigvardsen Jensen replaced the injured Joanna Lohman in the midfield, while Havana Solaun took over from Arielle Ship up front. Cheyna Williams - who missed this one with an adductor strain - was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner out on the right flank.
Initially, the Spirit controlled the game and threatened Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris several times. Kleiner had an early service from just outside the box that Harris blocked, and Stengel had a strong shot from outside the box. The Spirit were able to dominate the Pride’s weak midfield, allowing them to dictate the terms.
However after Stengel’s injury (Lindsey Agnew came in for Stengel in the 19th minute), the Spirit lost their way a bit and had to drop a bit deeper. This wasn’t a terrible strategy for the Spirit. Orlando’s speed up top meant that sitting back was one of the few good ways to stifle the Pride’s offense. Still, Orlando managed some shots from outside the box. The Spirit tried to keep play away from Australian international Steph Catley as much as possible, but in the 20th minute Catley had plenty of space at the top of the box. Fortunately for Washington, it went just wide.
Most of the Spirit’s offense relied on catching the Pride in transition as Lindsey Agnew did in the 22nd minute. Agnew’s shot from 20 yards out was blocked and spilled by Harris but no Spirit player was able to follow up on the ball despite an empty net.
In the 29th minute, Solaun forced a goal-line clearance from Monica after a smart one-two between her and Mewis opened up the defense. Solaun clipped a shot from an angle past Harris, but the former Spirit ‘keeper got just enough contact to slow it down, allowing Monica to keep the scores tied.
Jasmyne Spencer bungled a Catley free kick early in the second half but the Pride largely held their pattern of controlling possession but not translating it into goals. Labbe was forced to make a series of saves - none as spectacular as last week’s highlight reel display - but the scoreline stayed 0-0.
Francisca Ordega and Marta each entered just before the hour mark. Marta’s impact was muted as the Pride seemed uncertain about how to incorporate her. Marta hadn’t practiced much with the Pride and she didn’t seem integrated into the team. However, she did become dangerous in the final stages, when the Spirit had basically parked the bus.
In the 60th minute, Sigvardsen Jensen scored her first NWSL goal, giving the Spirit a 1-0 lead. Team captain Shelina Zadorsky’s corner was touched away by Ashlyn Harris, but it was a far from convincing clearance. Surrounded by a trio of defenders, Sigvardsen Jensen was somehow the only player to challenge for the ball in the air, floating a header over Harris and a crowd in front of the Orlando goal to put Washington in front.
Orlando equalized with seven minutes remaining thanks to a brilliant goal from Danica Evans. Camila exploited space in the Spirit’s midfield to pass it to Chioma Ubogagu, who in turn found Evans. Evans touched the ball to one side of Whitney Church while turning to the other, suddenly facing Labbe in behind the defense. Evans then showed the patience to get Labbe to commit before rounding her to level the scores.
Marta nearly won the game in stoppage time. A breakdown let the five-time World Player of the Year in on Labbe, and Marta managed to fake Labbe into leaning towards her near post. The Brazilian superstar’s shot to the back post beat Labbe, but skipped inches wide.
It wasn’t a pretty game for the Spirit, who had to endure a ton of pressure. The Spirit were lucky that Orlando didn’t carve out some stronger opportunities, or capitalize on some good looks. But still, the performance was an improvement over last week’s loss.
Yet the game was also a reminder that if Stengel’s injury is serious, the Spirit’s attack is in trouble. The Spirit lean heavily on Stengel’s back-to-goal style, and while they have plenty of forwards, they’re better wide or running in behind defenses rather than posting up. Washington may have to change their game if she’s another long-term absentee.
Next week the Spirit face the Houston Dash at the Maryland Soccerplex. Kickoff is set for 7pm.