Despite playing one of their best games of the season, the Washington Spirit’s miserable luck continued today in a 1-0 loss to the Houston Dash. After weather forced a postponement from Saturday night, the Spirit fell behind in the 3rd minute after a defensive mix-up. Washington dominated possession and peppered the Dash goal, but could never find a breakthrough.
For the second straight game, head coach Jim Gabarra set his team up in a 352. Normal starter Whitney Church was dropped, however, with Rebecca Quinn, Estelle Johnson, and Tori Huster playing from right to left in a three-back. Mallory Pugh (PCL sprain) was unavailable, though following the match Gabarra indicated that they plan on giving her some playing time in their next game.
A professional game that kicks off at 10 in the morning is already an odd thing, and this one got off to a suitably bizarre start. Francisca Ordega nearly scored less than 20 seconds into the match, but after sprinting past the Houston defense, her shot back across goal was glanced wide by Jane Campbell, who got her right foot to the ball. Ordega had another look from the resulting corner, but the ball arrived at an awkward height. Ordega still tried to chest the ball past Campbell, but couldn’t guide the ball far enough away from the Dash ‘keeper.
Houston replied to all of that with a 3rd minute goal. A midfield turnover found its way to Sofia Huerta on the left wing, and her cross fell between the Spirit back three and Aubrey Bledsoe. A miscommunication between those two groups allowed Rachel Daly to steal in unmarked to beat everyone to Huerta’s cross, and the ball bobbled slowly over the line to give Houston an early lead.
Three minutes later, the Spirit were denied a penalty kick by referee Elvis Osmanovic. Andi Sullivan served a free kick from 30 yards out towards the back post, where Taylor Smith appeared to be hauled down by a Houston defender. Both teams seemed to expect Osmanovic to point to the spot, but after a brief hesitation, he signaled for a goal kick. Following the match, Smith told reporters that she was “dragged down, plain and simple.”
The Spirit, other than their mistake on the goal, were having an excellent start. Estefania Banini missed two big chances in the next few minutes, both created by Smith, who was rampant on the right wing. Later in the half, Caprice Dydasco’s shot across goal got through traffic but missed tucking in at the back post by inches, while Tori Huster’s Olimpico attempt direct from a corner was punched away by Campbell at the last moment.
Houston was forced into a major tactical switch in the 27th minute after center back Janine van Wyk went down with an apparent ankle injury. Vera Pauw moved away from a 4231 and into a three-back, possibly as a response to the Spirit’s ability to carve out scoring chances.
If that was the plan, it worked to a certain extent. The Dash are known for slowing play down and sitting deep, and that became more of the story as the first half ended and the second began. The Spirit still had plenty of the ball, but had to wait until the 66th minute to really create anything in the second half, as substitute Mallory Eubanks was denied by a superb tackle by Amber Brooks.
The Spirit picked up the intensity after that, and Campbell produced her best save of the game in the 81st minute after Ashley Hatch picked up a loose ball 19 yards from goal and blistered a shot that was headed for the upper corner. Campbell somehow reacted in time to tip it over the bar at full stretch.
The Dash were visibly tiring after defending for most of the game, and Washington was finally starting to find openings. Havana Solaun, another substitute, headed a Huster corner just barely wide at the back post in the 86th minute, and almost directly from the ensuing goal kick, the Spirit won the ball back, with Hatch blazing a long-range shot over the bar.
In the end, Washington put 7 shots on goal and took 10 corners, but couldn’t break down the Dash or get that little bit of luck that has eluded them all year long. Gabarra’s last substitution, bringing Joanna Lohman in for Meggie Dougherty Howard, often resulted in the Spirit
Washington is off next weekend before facing a two-game road trip out west. They’ll face the Seattle Reign on August 5, followed by a stop off to face Utah Royals FC three days later.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.