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Aubrey Bledsoe stars as Washington Spirit, Seattle Reign FC fight to 0-0 draw

A physical game produced many chances after halftime, but no goals

Anya Button

The Washington Spirit and Seattle Reign FC both brought a lot of intensity to the table tonight, but ultimately their battle ended in a stalemate as big chances for both teams fell to the wayside in a 0-0 draw. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe saved Megan Rapinoe’s 52nd minute penalty kick and added three more top-notch saves after halftime in a game that became more and more stretched as time wore on.

Head coach Jim Gabarra had several players back from international duty and also saw Ashley Hatch return to the lineup after missing a game with a hip injury. One of those returnees, Rebecca Quinn, replaced Whitney Church (excused absence) in central defense, while Rose Lavelle made her first start for the club as she continues to build her fitness after a hamstring injury last September.

The first half was fairly uneventful for both sides who each struggled to break out of the midfield. Jodie Taylor got in behind during the 12th minute but was called offside, while the best chance for the Spirit came near the 26th minute when Lavelle picked up a loose ball and ran from the top of Washington’s box to just outside Seattle’s, where she played it off to Estefania Banini on the right flank. Banini’s shot to the far post skipped just barely wide.

The second half started in a similar fashion until Seattle drew a penalty kick in the 52nd minute. Rebecca Quinn had two attempts to clear upfield, but didn’t get much under the ball with a header and later with her foot. The Reign seized on the error, with Beverly Yanez feeding Taylor in behind. Taylor attempted to cross, but the service hit Estelle Johnson’s hand as she slid in to block, and Seattle had themselves a golden opportunity.

Megan Rapinoe, captaining Seattle in Jess Fishlock’s absence, stepped up to take the shot, but her low effort was unable to fool Bledsoe, who got low to save the penalty and then corral the ball before letting up a rebound.

“I tried to read [Rapinoe’s] run-up, it looked like she was going to open up and go to my left, and luckily she did,” Bledsoe told media after the game. “Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not, but today luck was in my favor.”

The game picked up from there both in terms of chances created and in intensity. Challenges were flying in from both teams, and several players ended up staying down after hard collisions. Both teams had someone put their body on the line to block shots late, as Lauren Barnes had to be substituted after a powerfully-struck shot from Tori Huster hit her in the head. Later, Quinn needed a couple minutes of treatment after tweaking her knee while blocking a shot inside the box, though she was able to return and finish the game.

The Spirit followed the penalty kick save with a string of chances thanks to crosses from Taylor Smith. First, her low cross intended for Ashley Hatch was poked away by Barnes only to fall right to Banini, who could only shoot right at Lydia Williams from a promising position.

In the 59th minute, Smith made a late run down the right that Banini spotted, and she rounded Steph Catley before trying another low cross. This one found Andi Sullivan at the penalty spot, but Sullivan’s one-time effort was sliced high, letting Seattle off the hook. Less than a minute later, Smith fired a driven cross in that Barnes could only head straight up into the air, triggering a sequence that saw two Spirit shots blocked before Smith lobbed it back in to Hatch, who teed halftime substitute Francisca Ordega for a falling volley that soared high.

The Reign had moments of their own in the minutes that followed, with multiple Rapinoe free kicks going into the wall and one corner from Rapinoe (who was going for goal) forcing Bledsoe to punch the ball away on the line. Seattle was committing nearly every player on their team to set pieces, crowding the Washington box with as many as 8 targets.

Rumi Utsugi spotted Taylor in a gap in the 70th minute, picking her out with a long pass that put the Spirit under immediate duress. Taylor cut the ball back to dodge Johnson’s challenge, but just as she was about to shoot from seven yards, Bledsoe charged out and blocked Taylor’s shot at the England striker’s feet.

Jasmyne Spencer came on moments later, and eventually forced another huge save out of Bledsoe in the 81st minute. Spencer, collecting the ball along the right touchline, cut inside past Meggie Dougherty Howard and thumped a left-footed shot that was going to tuck just inside the post only for Bledsoe to tip it wide at full stretch.

Allie Long nodded an 84th minute corner inches wide, and then Bledsoe then had to come up with another top save to deny Rapinoe, whose floating header on the run looked destined to give the Reign an 86th minute lead until the Spirit goalkeeper reached up high to preserve the draw.

Seattle thought they’d have the last laugh after winning a 95th minute free kick, but the opportunity ended up being more dangerous for the Spirit. Quinn won the battle to get to Megan Oyster’s service into the box, and the ball found its way to Ordega on the edge of the Washington box. Ordega ran nearly the length of the field before shuttling the ball on to Smith in some space on the right. Sadly for Washington, what followed was a near carbon-copy of an earlier miss, as Sullivan got under the ball, slicing a potential game-winner wide right.

The Spirit, who remain stuck in 8th place on 10 points, host the Orlando Pride next Saturday at 7pm in a game that will be broadcast nationally on ESPNews.