The Washington Spirit earned their first win of the 2017 NWSL season with a 4-3 win against Sky Blue FC. Francisca Ordega posted a dominant game for the Spirit, scoring two goals, forcing an own goal, and setting up the Spirit’s third goal. After a dominant first half, the Spirit’s control faltered in the second half but Washington managed to hold onto their lead.
“It’s the Franny we thought we getting at the beginning of the season,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said of Ordega’s performance on Saturday night. “It’s good to see her get into her form.”
Ordega got the game off to a quick start with a 6th minute goal that marked the Spirit’s first goal from open play this season. Line Sigvardsen Jensen fed Ordega running between Sky Blue’s center backs, and the Nigerian international proceeded to draw Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan out of goal before sliding it past her to put the Spirit up 1-0.
The Spirit’s lead was short-lived. Kelley O’Hara scored in the 12th minute. Taylor Lytle’s cross from the left side, intended for Sarah Killion, missed its target but was flying towards goal nonetheless. Stephanie Labbe had to react late, making the save but giving it a rebound. O’Hara, lurking unmarked at the back post, slammed the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
Neither team could manage a long string of possession, with both teams attacking in quick bursts rather than controlling possession. For the Spirit, that meant attacking mostly up the flanks on what was a sloppy half for both teams.
In the 26th minute, Ordega forced Erin Simon to concede an own goal to put the Spirit ahead 2-1. Again running onto a pass from Sigvardsen Jensen, Ordega beat Kayla Mills inside the area and drew Sheridan out to the near post. From a bad angle, Ordega fired an effort aimed at the far post that got past Sheridan, but it still needed Simon’s attempted clearance to end up in the back of the net.
The Spirit got their first two-goal lead of 2017, and Ordega was again heavily involved. Solaun, deep in the Spirit’s own final third, passed the ball to Ordega at the center before taking off on a long sprint. Ordega rewarded the run, sending Solaun in behind the defense with an inch-perfect through ball. One on one with Sheridan, Solaun leaned towards the near post before shooting past Sheridan and into the far corner to make it 3-1.
Sky Blue wasn’t quitting on the game, though. In the 42nd minute, Lytle had time and space in the middle to set up Sam Kerr, whose shot from the top of the box was tipped over the bar by Labbe.
The visitors thought they had pulled a goal back less than two minutes after halftime. A cross from the right wing found Kerr and Killion both crashing the goal with only Whitney Church marking the pair. The ball found Kerr, who got a touch before Labbe could arrive. However, before Kerr could celebrate for long, the flag went up for offside.
Sky Blue got a goal that counted in the 49th minute. After some possession for her side, Lytle found O’Hara at the top of the box, and O’Hara quickly slotted it through for Killion, who came from deep and was unaccounted for. In plenty of space, Killion had no problem side-footing past Labbe from six yards out.
“We came out with a mentality that we needed to win that half,” Gabarra said. “They came out with a hunger and desperation and a real fire and I don’t think we had that same level of intensity. They’re a very difficult team to play against in transition since they get the ball forward so fast and they have Kerr, Galton, Hayes when they brought her in, O’Hara...they’re very, very dynamic.”
Ordega scored her second goal of the match in the 56th minute. Solaun, showing signs of developing a good bond with Ordega, read the striker’s intention to run in behind and delivered a great through ball that created a breakaway. Sheridan raced off her line, but her attempt to clear was blocked by Ordega, who was inches away from getting that first touch. Ordega managed to catch up to the loose ball before rolling it in to the empty net from a narrow angle.
The Spirit tried to shore things up, giving Cameron Castleberry her pro debut as a 65th minute sub, but Sky Blue was still dangerous. In the 70th minute, Kerr placed a deft pass into the box for McKenzie Meehan, who was tripped by Kassey Kallman, with referee Danielle Chesky immediately awarding a penalty kick. Killion stepped up and placed it low to Labbe’s right to reduce the Spirit’s lead.
Sky Blue started to pressure the Spirit more, with Kerr becoming more potent as the game went on. In the 75th minute, O’Hara put substitute McKenzie Meehan into a good spot inside the box. Labbe charged out and blocked her shot, but it was still bouncing towards goal until Estelle Johnson - having another great game - arrived to block it on the line.
Cheyna Williams entered with twenty minutes left, replacing Sigvardsen Jensen. It was Williams’ first game back since her groin injury in the opening game. However, the story remained Ordega, who ramped up the pressure on Sky Blue’s backline towards the end of the match. Despite that, the Spirit couldn’t make it 5-3, and nearly saw Sky Blue equalize deep in stoppage time. From 28 yards, O’Hara’s 94th minute free kick was powerfully struck and heading in, but Labbe just managed to force it over the crossbar.
Next week, the Spirit will have a big challenge on their hands, as they head west to take on Seattle Reign FC at 4pm Eastern.