After a five hour lightning delay that pushed a 3:50 p.m. kickoff to 9 p.m., the Washington Spirit fell 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars at a thoroughly drenched Maryland SoccerPlex. Sam Kerr gave Chicago a lead midway through the first half before Yuki Nagasato struck early in the second half before the hundred or so brave souls who sat through the downpour.
Right before the scheduled kickoff time, lightning was detected within ten miles of the Maryland SoccerPlex and the game was delayed until 5 p.m. when the kickoff was postponed to 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. the teams resumed play with no lightning but plenty of rain.
Head coach Jim Gabarra made major changes to his lineup in an effort to shake things up. He gave Kelsey Wys her first start in goal for the team since the 2016 NWSL championship game in place of Aubrey Bledsoe. Wys had not played a competitive game since tearing her ACL while playing in Australia in late 2016. Joanna Lohman made her second start of the season in central midfield, while Rebecca Quinn started at center back. Estelle Johnson filled in for normal right back Taylor Smith, who moved up front to add speed to a front line missing Mallory Pugh (injury) and Francisca Ordega (national team duty).
At first, conditions were not too bad, though both teams relied on a lot of direct balls to their forwards. Washington looked rather disjointed though, and slowly but surely Chicago took control of the game, which was mostly being played in the Spirit’s half. About 20 minutes in, though, the rain picked up dramatically, and ended up contributing to the game’s first goal.
Yuki Nagasato won a free kick in the 25th minute, with Lohman getting a yellow card for the foul. Nagasato took the free kick herself, opting for power, and though Wys managed to save the initial shot, the ball slipped away from her control, and Kerr beat everyone to the loose ball to score.
For the rest of the half, the field was essentially a slip and slide. Traditional attempts at soccer pretty much went out the window, with water splashing up every time a player touched the ball and nearly every play ending with someone in a puddle.
A free kick from Havana Solaun in first half stoppage time was one of the Spirit’s best chances, and indeed one of the only shots in the final 20 minutes of the half from either team, but her effort curled just inches over the crossbar.
Halftime saw the weather finally let up, with most of the second half played in a drizzle rather than a downpour. The SoccerPlex’s drainage system ended up clearing the spots of standing water up before play resumed, allowing both teams to connect more passes.
Unfortunately for the Spirit, Chicago produced some combination play to quickly add to their lead. A long ball found Nagasato at the top of the box, and she tapped the ball forward to Alyssa Mautz. Mautz used a shoulder fake to buy time before laying it back to Nagasato, who picked out the lower corner in the 49th minute, making it 2-0.
Gabarra reacted quickly, sending Morgan Proffitt in for Lohman and bringing Rose Lavelle in for Solaun up top in the 10 minutes that followed. Lavelle brought some ideas and clicked well with Banini, but still has some rust to shake off after being out for so long. Washington started to have a bit more of an attack including this play from Banini:
While the Spirit had individual moments of solid play and had the better of the next 10-15 minutes, they weren’t quite able to pry open a solid Chicago back four, and were still having to play over the top regularly as Red Stars midfield duo Nikki Stanton and Danielle Colaprico owned the center of the field.
Washington was putting in the work, but Chicago did not look too worried in protecting their lead. The Spirit did carve out one final look in stoppage time, as Johnson’s long ball curled in behind both Red Stars center backs. Ashley Hatch ran onto it and shot first-time, but Emily Boyd — who made her first start due to Alyssa Naeher’s USWNT call-up — charged off her line to make a kick-save. The rebound shot out to Caprice Dydasco, who immediately passed forward to substitute Mallory Eubanks. With Boyd still well off her line, Eubanks rushed to shoot, but her attempt from 25 yards soared a yard over the bar.
With the loss, Washington remains mired in 8th place, currently 5 points behind the Houston Dash in 7th. They’ll be back in action again this Friday, June 8, as they travel to New Jersey to play Sky Blue FC.