With the hardest part of their schedule coming up, the Washington Spirit needed a win over the star-studded Portland Thorns. Thanks to Francisca Ordega’s first half goal, that’s exactly what they got, extending their unbeaten streak to three with a 1-0 victory. Despite the Thorns holding over 60% of possession, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was rarely tested as Washington posted a second straight home shutout.
It was also the Spirit’s first ever Pride night, with the Spirit Squadron supporters group taking the lead. The club donated a portion of ticket proceeds to Playing for Pride and Maryland Soccerplex logo at the facility was painted in a rainbow pattern.
The game started off at a high tempo with the Spirit having a slight edge offensively. Portland’s chances mainly came from balls over the Spirit’s lines, even though Portland had most of the possession. That was a common theme throughout the night: the Thorns had most of the ball, but could not make anything out of it. In the first half Portland only registered one shot on goal.
The first major chance of the game ended up being the only goal of the night. Ordega caught USWNT midfielder Allie Long by surprise, stealing a loose touch and storming forward towards an unprepared Thorns back four. Ordega feinted left before going right to spin Emily Sonnett before ripping a shot past Adrianna Franch from 18 yards out. The strike was Ordega’s fourth of the season, making her the Spirit’s top scorer.
The goal meant a lot to Ordega on a personal level. “My sister died on the 25th of June 2015 after the World Cup. Tomorrow is going to be her second year since she left us. So I was like, if I can play my best today and score, definitely I’m going to dedicate the goal to her,” Ordega said.
Following a standout performance, Ordega attributed her showing to the motivation her sister’s memory provides.
“I have to do [well] so she can be proud of me and [I can] make myself happy. I keep dreaming of her, she motivated me a lot,” she said. “The only thing that will make her happy, wherever she is, is for me to be happy because she always wanted me to play my best, she supported me during my playing time. I keep doing my best and that will make her happy.”
The Spirit nearly made it 2-0 shortly after taking the lead. Meggie Dougherty Howard found Havana Solaun in a pocket of space. Solaun drew attention from Celeste Boureille, but touched the ball away from her before stinging a 24 yard shot that cracked off the post.
While Portland controlled the possession, they were often pushed to the flanks. That limited their ability to create, and reduced them to an uncharacteristic reliance on long balls. At the other end, the Spirit’s forwards were much better than in previous games at defending from the front and profiting from turnovers. Several Spirit attacks got started from Thorns giveaways, which sparked dangerous Washington transitions throughout.
During the second half, the tempo slowed down considerably especially with Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra’s decision to replace Kristie Mewis with Caprice Dydasco at the hour mark. Dydasco, normally an outside back, made the Spirit’s midfield more defensive particularly because she was playing alongside Meggie Dougherty Howard and Tori Huster, whose return from injury strengthened the Spirit’s core defensively.
Ordega and Cheyna Williams were dangerous up front and each created several good runs that ended up not resulting in a goal. A 62nd minute sequence saw Ordega nearly break through only for a tackle to stop her momentum. The ball rolled on for Williams, who shook off a marker before firing a shot that Franch barely managed to save.
Head coach Jim Gabarra brought Katie Stengel in for Williams, looking for hold-up play and fresh legs. Solaun was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner late as Washington moved to protect their narrow lead. Portland started increasing the tempo in the final minutes and the Thorns had several runs into the Spirit’s defense but the more conservative set-up helped mitigate that danger.
In the end, Labbe and the Spirit backline were able to resist any attempt to find an equalizer, and the Spirit gained a valuable three points. The win saw Washington move up to 8th place, and their 11 points puts them in striking distance of the playoff race. The Thorns, currently in the fourth and final playoff spot, are just 4 points ahead of the Spirit.
Next week, Washington travels north to face the Boston Breakers in Massachusetts on Saturday.