At the halftime whistle tonight, the Washington Spirit trudged off the field extremely fortunate to only be down 1-0 against Sky Blue FC. However, the Spirit - sparked by a breakout performance from rookie Arielle Ship - transformed during the break, storming their way to a 4-1 win. Ship scored once and was directly involved with two others, while Cheyna Williams, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Havana Solaun also got on the scoresheet.
Jim Gabarra made two changes to the side that fell in Portland last week. One - Williams replacing Mallory Pugh, who is not yet back from USWNT duty - was no real surprise. In the back, however, Spirit captain Shelina Zadorsky was not in the lineup for the first time all season, with Kassey Kallman replacing her at center back.
The Spirit pressed high from the opening kickoff, but Sky Blue’s first attack turned into a 2nd minute goal. Estelle Johnson had to defuse an attack down the wing, and from the resulting throw-in, McKenzie Meehan finagled a one-on-one with Whitney Church just inside the box. Church stood off, giving Meehan the space to slide a cross into the goalmouth, and Washington’s defense was far too passive to cope. Daphne Corboz nearly poked it home at the near post, and the ball ran on to Maya Hayes, who did just enough to squeeze the ball past Stephanie Labbe and Caprice Dydasco at the back post.
Washington was having most of the play in terms of time spent on the ball in the attacking third, but every Sky Blue attack was looking dangerous due to a very shaky start from the back four. A stumble from Church nearly let Hayes in only for Johnson to make a last-ditch tackle in the 11th minute, and in the 13th a bounce flummoxed Johnson only for Taylor Lytle to badly scuff her shot from a good spot.
A diagonal ball from the right found Meehan unmarked running the channel between Johnson and Church, and after a touch she appeared to do just enough to get her shot past Labbe and in off the post in the 18th minute. However, the offside flag came up to save the Spirit’s blushes, though replays were far from convincing.
Washington created a prolonged attack after Williams forced a corner, but it was Meehan again in a dangerous spot in the 27th minute. This time, she beat the offside trap running onto a perfectly weighted Corboz through ball, but Labbe closed the angle and made a strong stop. The Spirit made a meal of getting the ball out of danger, but somehow escaped unscathed.
The Spirit started pushing their fullbacks into the attack, with Johnson’s 30th minute cross just inches from picking out Williams only for Sheridan to dive out and punch it away. Sky Blue immediately surged forward though, with Meehan and Hayes looking for a third runner only for the retreating Washington defense finally getting in to end the danger.
Washington nearly finished the half with an exclamation point. In stoppage time, Williams laid the ball back to Kristie Mewis, who had a window and took a rip from 20 yards. She kept the ball low and on frame, but Sheridan managed to keep hold of the ball without bobbling it.
After such a shoddy first half, the Spirit looked to assert themselves from the second half kickoff. Ship forced a turnover from Nikki Stanton before charging into the box. She then evaded Stanton’s attempted tackle before teeing up Dougherty Howard, whose first-time shot flashed a yard over the crossbar. Moments later, Williams latched onto a loose ball before shooting high from an acute angle.
The Spirit’s good start to the half promised a goal, and it didn’t take long to arrive. A wonderful first touch from Ship saw her touch Tori Huster’s pass around the charging Christie Pearce. Ship carried the ball into the box before absolutely crushing a shot from the right side of the box past Sheridan and into the far side netting to level the scores in the 52nd minute. The goal was the first of Ship’s pro career, and one of the best the team has produced all season.
Ship was looking like a force of nature, and she ended up being instrumental as Washington pulled ahead in the 61st minute. Labbe’s long ball forward seemed like no problem for Domi Richardson, but she under-hit a backpass as Ship was pressuring her. Ship beat Sheridan to the ball, touching it goalward. It was no guarantee that the ball was going to get in, though, and Williams sprinted in to make sure it got over the line with a final touch.
Williams went on a mazy run before shooting over the bar in the 70th minute as the Spirit were winning most of the 50/50 balls and looking far more energetic than the home side, who seemed shell-shocked from the moment Ship leveled the score.
Washington was not done. Sheridan was walking with a limp that happened away from play, and her choice to stay in without treatment came back to haunt her. A weak free kick gave Dougherty Howard the chance to win the ball, and she quickly found Ship in a promising position. This time, she played a smart through ball for Dougherty Howard, who kept running after making her initial pass. In behind the defense, Dougherty Howard side-footed the ball past Sheridan and into the lower corner in the 73rd minute.
Alyssa Kleiner came in for Mewis, with Williams moving up front, as Gabarra looked to seal the three points. Washington had come into the match having lost 10 points from games in which they held the lead, so defense-first subs on the road against the high-scoring home side were no surprise. Ship, after a spectacular performance, was applauded off by traveling Spirit fans in the 84th minute, making way for fellow rookie Lindsay Agnew.
3-1 was enough to win the game, but Washington had time to add one more. Dougherty Howard got to a loose ball in the box before being tripped up by Sarah Killion, winning a penalty kick that drew no complaints from Sky Blue. Havana Solaun stepped up to the spot and coolly converted past Sheridan, making it 4-1 in the 87th minute.
With the win, Washington moved off the bottom of the table and into a tie with the Boston Breakers for eighth place. That’s who they’ll play next week at the Maryland Soccerplex, which will host its first Lifetime game of the week on Saturday, with kickoff coming around 3:50pm.