The Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars played two very different halves on Saturday night. An action-packed first half somehow only gave way to two goals: an early strike from the Spirit’s Francisca Ordega and one from Chicago’s Alyssa Mautz midway through the half. After halftime, though, rain and heavy winds helped turn the game into a physical contest, with the Spirit hanging on for the draw. Sam Kerr returned from her time with the Australian national team and threatened throughout the night, but the Spirit were able to blunt her impact for the most part.
“I thought defensively we were very good,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said. “There’s times this season where I think we would have conceded a goal there at the end.”
Washington started the same lineup that picked up a point in Portland. While Estefania Banini was back in town for tonight’s game after the Copa America Femenina, she didn’t dress. Kerr and USWNT starter Julie Ertz earned their first minutes this season for Chicago after returning from international duty and injury, respectively.
The exciting first half got going quickly with a fourth minute goal from Ordega, who has now scored a goal in three straight games. Estelle Johnson sent a 60-yard long clearance over the Red Stars backline to the feet of Mallory Pugh on the right. Pugh drove a low cross into the goal mouth, with Ordega converting at the back post.
It was pretty back and forth, with both teams looking to charge forward at every opportunity. Kerr was a highly dangerous threat to Washington between her technical ability and her pace, but Johnson and the rest of the backline didn’t do too badly against the 2017 NWSL MVP.
Kerr did contribute to the Red Stars’ lone goal of the match. Nikki Stanton swung the ball out to Taylor Comeau on Chicago’s right flank. Comeau delivered a cross that Kerr glanced towards goal just as Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe arrived. Bledsoe blocked the shot, but the ball bounced out to Mautz, who calmly steered a shot through the traffic to tie the game.
The Red Stars tried to be more patient as the half wore on, but the teams continued to trade chances. Chicago’s best chance came in the 41st minute when Danielle Colaprico delivered a corner kick to heavy traffic at the back post. Sam Johnson nodded the ball back across goal and past Bledsoe, who nonetheless managed a spectacular save, diving back against her own momentum to tip the ball away at the last second.
Following a 44th minute Chicago corner, the Spirit had a response. Pugh mounted a strong, one-woman counter-attack after picking up the rebound of a blocked shot just outside the Washington box. Pugh went wide to give herself a shooting angle around Arin Gilliland before firing on frame, with Alyssa Naeher barely fighting the shot off and conceding a corner.
In the second half play grew more physical, with Chicago picking up three yellow cards. Kerr had shots in the 60th and 70th minutes, but while the Red Stars — with the strong wind at their back — took eight second-half shots, Bledsoe was forced into just one save.
Pugh and Ordega combined well up top and the partnership between them, which was never fully realized last season due to various injuries, looked promising. Still, the Spirit struggled sometimes to get out of their own half as the weather got worse. That said, the Spirit showed promise playing over the top for Pugh from time to time.
As the game drew to a close, the rain and wind picked up at the Maryland Soccerplex. The wind compounded the Red Stars’ advantage and trapped the Spirit in their own half. Chicago put the Spirit under heavy pressure, similar to last week against the Thorns, but the Spirit didn’t break.
Next Saturday the Spirit face the Utah Royals in Salt Lake City. Utah is winless in their first season since being relocated from Kansas City, but has picked up four draws in five games.