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Washington Spirit show grit, hanging on to 1-1 draw at Portland Thorns FC

Aubrey Bledsoe’s late PK save on Lindsey Horan helped the Spirit hang on to a valuable road point

Nikita Taparia

Despite the fact that Portland Thorns FC were short-handed, tonight’s game was always going to be a tough one for the Washington Spirit, who have not had much success in Oregon over the years. However, the visitors dug deep, limiting the Thorns to just 12 shots despite intense late pressure and getting an 87th minute penalty kick save from Aubrey Bledsoe en route to a 1-1 draw.

Jim Gabarra made two changes to the team that fell 4-2 to North Carolina last week. Mallory Pugh moved back up to the forward line, starting on the right, while Meggie Dougherty Howard and Tori Huster came into the midfield on either side of Andi Sullivan. Joanna Lohman and Mallory Eubanks made way.

The Spirit started the game positively, staying compact and pressing Portland effectively. The game’s first real chance fell to Washington in the 26th minute, and it’s a wonder that it wasn’t the game’s first goal. A free kick from Sullivan was initially won by a Thorns defender, but the ball fell right to Ordega, who shot across goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom only to see the ball clip a Portland heel. Huster and two Thorns defenders tried to get a foot on the ball along the goalline before Eckerstrom poked the ball off of a crowd of players, where it caromed to Ordega again, only this time the Nigerian international fired wide of the goal.

Washington wasn’t going to let their good start go to waste, and took the lead in the 37th minute following some chaos in the box. Huster’s corner kick was initially met by Ifeoma Onumonu, but her clearance attempt only looped the ball back into the middle. Eckerstrom couldn’t quite claim the ball, and with several players falling to the ground trying to get the key touch, Ordega ended up doing just enough to push it over the line.

Portland was not pleased with how things were going, with Emily Sonnett getting booked for a hard tackle in the 39th minute and Lindsey Horan getting talked to for a late challenge on Dougherty Howard just before halftime.

However, with halftime just moments away, the Thorns snagged an equalizer. Onumonu turned quickly into the box, and Dydasco simply got too close, eventually clattering into Onumonu and giving Portland a penalty kick. Christine Sinclair, who had been quiet up to that point, calmly converted two minutes into stoppage time, sending Bledsoe one way while shooting the other.

The game had a bit of a physical edge before halftime, and that ramped up in the second half, with Smith, Sullivan, and Sinclair all needing treatment after hard collisions. Minutes after Tobin Heath made her first appearance of 2018 (replacing Onumonu), the Spirit nearly got a second goal from Ordega. A ball into the box wasn’t dealt with well by Portland, who had several defenders hesitate, which allowed Ordega to knife in and get away from Celeste Boureille. Ordega quickly tried to shoot, but Eckerstrom did well to come off her line quickly and snuff the shot out at Ordega’s feet.

Smith was forced into a superb block in the 70th minute after the Spirit, showing signs of fatigue, couldn’t clear a Thorns attack. Midge Purce’s cross from the right appeared destined to find Mallory Weber at the back post, but Smith did just enough to poke the ball clear of danger, likely saving a goal in the process.

Gabarra brought Joanna Lohman and Mallory Eubanks into the game for Huster and Ordega to boost his side’s flagging energy, with the teams exchanging chances. First, Pugh got past Weber and Kelli Hubly on the right to put an enticing ball into the goalmouth, but neither Lohman nor Ashley Hatch could get the final touch. At the other end, a delicate cross from Sinclair fell perfectly for substitute Ana Crnogorcevic, but the Swiss international could only get the slightest contact on the ball with her diving header, which gave Bledsoe an easy save in the end.

Washington’s energy was flagging, and in the late moments it looked like that was going to cost them. Following a half-cleared free kick, Portland pumped in another long ball, this one picking out Emily Sonnett. Sonnett brought the ball down with her back to goal only to be brought down from behind by Bledsoe, who had come out for the service and couldn’t stop her momentum. Referee Matt Franz pointed to the spot for the second time, but this time Horan — who initially stumbled in her run-up and had to reset herself — was denied by Bledsoe, who dove to her left to make a huge save in the 87th minute.

The Spirit were not out of the woods, as the Thorns basically camped out in the Washington half for all of stoppage time, but ultimately some determined defending was enough to give them a morale-boosting draw in a venue that has not been kind to them over the years.

The draw means the Spirit stay in 5th place overall, with 4 points from 4 games played. They’re back home next weekend, hosting the Chicago Red Stars Saturday night at 7pm.