The Washington Spirit‘s tough early schedule has proven unforgiving, and this time it was defending NWSL champion Portland Thorns FC handing them a third straight shutout loss. Despite out-shooting Portland, the Spirit couldn’t find a goal, and a 68th minute goal from Ellie Carpenter proved the difference maker in Saturday night’s match.
“I think we’ve been built up from the back where defensively we’ve been a lot more secure and more solid and I thought our midfield was even better tonight than it was down in Carolina against a really good team. It’s just that final third, that final piece,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said.
Gabarra made one change from last week’s lineup, with Meggie Dougherty Howard replacing Francisca Ordega. Estefania Banini starting up top for the Spirit, who returned to the 4-3-3. For Portland, head coach Mark Parsons went with a four-back instead of the three-back that he has preferred this season.
Portland dictated the first 20 minutes or so of the game but the Spirit was still able to spring several counter-attacks. Caprice Dydasco was was part of two promising attacks before the 10th minute, but one was turned over and another was headed over the net. Mallory Pugh sparked a counter on her own after that, but despite managing a shot on a one-on-four attack, in the end Germantown native Britt Eckerstrom comfortably saved.
Portland had the best chance of the half soon thereafter when Tobin Heath used a wicked cutback to lose Rebecca Quinn. With no defenders close enough to shut her down, Heath had plenty of the goal to look at, but fired a shot right at Aubrey Bledsoe.
The Spirit replied with some danger from corner kicks, and once when Banini found Pugh making a run through a seam in the defense. Pugh managed to get the ball past Eckerstrom, but had no angle and ran out of space to put the ball on frame. In the 34th minute, Ashley Hatch nearly managed to touch a Taylor Smith cross in at the near post only for Eckerstrom to just barely get to it first.
In the final moments of the half, Dydasco won a foul just outside the box. Pugh and Banini both stood over it before Pugh opted to shoot, curling the ball around the wall but wide of the far post.
The teams continued to trade chances at the start of the second half. Whitney Church, who had a strong game, slid in to produce a key block after a loose ball in the box fell to Christine Sinclair . At the other end, Pugh turned provider twice, first setting up Banini outside the box only for the Argentine to curl her shot right at Eckerstrom. Then, a Tori Huster tackle created a good opportunity for Washington, who had Pugh fly past Emily Menges before squaring to Hatch, who ripped the Spirit’s best look of the night wide.
It started to rain hard at the Maryland SoccerPlex, and Washington was incredibly lucky not to get called for a penalty kick. Quinn slipped while trying to defend Midge Purce, who took off all alone into the box. Andi Sullivan raced back to try and make a tackle, but ran into Purce from behind, allowing Bledsoe to clear. It looked like a penalty kick, but referee Guido Gonzales Jr. made it clear he saw no foul.
After the game, when asked to describe his no-call on the play, Gonzales Jr. said “In the opinion of the referee, Andi Sullivan was not seen to have infringed the laws of the game.”
A few minutes later, the Thorns scored the deciding goal. Meggie Dougherty Howard was doubled at midfield, with Sinclair knicking the ball near the midfield line back to Carpenter along the left Carpenter found Lindsey Horan, whose 65 yard crossfield pass caught the Spirit while they were still recovering from the turnover. Heath had time to size up a cross that rolled past both Quinn and Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, but Carpenter made sure it ended up in the back of the net at the back post. With the goal, Carpenter became the all-time youngest goalscorer in NWSL history.
Mallory Eubanks entered in the 76th minute for Dougherty Howard and proved active. Her 86th minute shot following a cross from the left hit Menges in the face from close range, and moments into stoppage time she appeared to be fouled by Katherine Reynolds inside the box while going for a cross from Smith, only for Gonzales Jr. to again make no call. Between all that, Sullivan nearly got to a loose ball in the box, only for the bounce to come up too high for her to get a foot on it.
Washington was making a strong push, with Eubanks volleying a loose ball from 20 yards after Church’s long free kick was knocked down. Eckerstrom was again solid, holding the ball despite the rain, something she had to repeat in the 93rd minute after Sullivan hit a powerful shot from over 25 yards following a clever pass from Ordega.
Washington is now 1W-2D-5L and remains in 8th place in the nine-team table. This Wednesday, the Spirit get another chance to break their winless streak, this time facing the last place Sky Blue FC at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Kickoff is set for 7:30pm.