After stymieing the first-place North Carolina Courage for 45 minutes, a mistake moments into second half ended up costing the Washington Spirit, who fell 2-0 to the NWSL league leaders. Ashley Hatch scored in the 46th minute, while a bizarre 84th minute own goal summed up the Spirit’s summer.
“They did nothing, they had nothing, zero, zip, not even a threat, one long throw-in, no chances...we’ve got to have an exorcism or something,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said after the game about a Spirit team that can’t seem to avoid misfortune right now.
North Carolina opened with typical high pressure, but after the first ten minutes the Spirit gained their footing. Courage midfielder McCall Zerboni did well at picking up balls in the midfield but North Carolina registered few shots. That said, the Spirit didn’t do much with the possession they had. Washington threatened sporadically, but they rarely turned those moments into real chances.
Due to high temperatures and attempts at holding a high press, both teams were pretty gassed, which produced a sloppy game featuring many long balls. Washington posted a very strong ten minutes following the mandatory hydration break, but NC goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland was still not very busy.
Estelle Johnson came off at halftime, with what the television broadcast attributed to problems related to the 91 degree heat, and was replaced by Alyssa Kleiner.
That change proved notable within seconds of the start of the half. The Courage caught the Spirit in the midfield, with Denise O’Sullivan picking out Kristen Hamilton on the right flank despite three players having a shot at shutting her down. Hamilton delivered a low cross through the box that Kleiner attempted to clear. She swung and missed, though, allowing Ashley Hatch to take a touch and fire past Stephanie Labbe.
The defensive mistakes that led to the goal were bad but for the rest of the half the Spirit were able to continue playing an even half against the Courage, who are comfortably sitting atop the league standings. Hamilton and substitute Jess McDonald had chances midway through the half, but were denied by Labbe both times. Meanwhile, the Spirit had looks of their own, including a shot from Mallory Pugh that flew over the bar after she had done well to shake her markers.
In the 84th minute though, the Spirit’s hopes of a surprise draw disappeared. the Courage scored off an own goal. A corner kick from Samantha Mewis drew Labbe off her line, but she couldn’t get a punch to it as Zerboni challenged her in the air. Cali Farquharson was in place to head the ball away, but her header zipped right into the face of Kassey Kallman and then bounced into the net. It was a literal case of adding insult to injury, as Kallman needed a look from the trainer after being hit square in the nose by the ball.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Spirit suffered one more stroke of bad luck. A long ball forward from Shelina Zadorsky tempted Rowland to come out for a punch despite not having much of a chance to get there in time. Cheyna Williams rose up above Abby Dahlkemper to flick the ball on, sending it past Rowland and towards the open net. Farquharson couldn’t quite get a final touch, and the header ended up coming back off the post before NC could clear it away.
Next Saturday, the Spirit face the Chicago Red Stars at home before traveling to facing North Carolina the following Wednesday.