A brutal season for the Washington Spirit hit bottom in Texas, as the Houston Dash scored three second half goals en route to a 4-0 win. Kealia Ohai opened the scoring late in the first half, before Sofia Huerta struck twice midway through the second half. Kyah Simon added a late goal, condemning the Spirit to their heaviest defeat of a miserable season.
Head coach Jim Gabarra was, for perhaps the first time all season, able to field something close to a full-strength lineup. Meggie Dougherty Howard replaced Whitney Church in midfield, while Francisca Ordega came in for the injured Tori Huster as the Spirit moved from the 352 favored of late and into a 433 formation.
The Dash, essentially needing to win out to get into the playoffs, started the game off by immediately creating danger with balls over the top. Chances for Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly went awry, with Daly’s 5th minute header from point-blank range somehow going over the bar after a superb cross from Sofia Huerta.
Washington finally started to make some progress through Taylor Smith’s runs up the right flank. First, her 20th minute interception ended up giving the Spirit a dangerous free kick that Lavelle ended up curling around the wall and right to goalkeeper Jane Campbell. Minutes later, Smith flew up the right side to run onto Mallory Pugh’s layoff before pinging the ball back to the USWNT winger, whose shot was blocked by a crowd in front.
After a hydration break, play carried on fairly evenly until the Dash took the lead in classic Houston fashion in the 41st minute. Following an attacking thrust from the Spirit broken up by Clare Polkinghorne, Linda Motlhalo found herself on the ball with space. Despite being deep in the Dash end, Motlhalo managed to cut out the entire Spirit midfield with a pass on the ground to Daly, who was sprinting out to the left. Daly entered the area before squaring the ball awkwardly to Ohai, who tucked the ball past Aubrey Bledsoe with ease.
Washington made a halftime change, bringing in Mallory Eubanks for Pugh and pushing Smith up to right forward. They had two quick looks, with Francisca Ordega firing into the outside netting in the 48th minute and being called narrowly offside in the 51st minute as she ran onto a clever pass from Ashley Hatch.
Huerta fired over the bar in the 54th minute, but she wouldn’t do the same four minutes later. It was simply too easy for Houston, as Huerta dished the ball right to Taylor Comeau, who was allowed to get her head up before passing it back to Huerta, who ran unmarked into the box. From there, Huerta ripped a shot past Bledsoe, as the Dash added a crucial second goal.
The Spirit nearly had an instant response. A cross from Caprice Dydasco saw both Ordega and Hatch challenge Polkinghorne, who could only nod the ball back towards the top of the box. Lavelle stepped out of the way for Andi Sullivan, who struck a rocket that unfortunately cracked off the crossbar.
The game opened up, with the Dash nearly catching the Spirit out again in the 61st minute. Veronica Latsko, running down the Spirit left, drew Bledsoe off her line before passing off to Ohai. Rebecca Quinn arrived with a goal-saving tackle, with the ball bouncing back to Latsko, whose quick shot drew an even quicker save from Bledsoe.
Whitney Church replaced Lavelle — who like Pugh is on a minutes limit — in the 62nd minute, and she nearly made a quick impact. Church’s 65th minute cross found Sullivan at the near post, where her sharp header forced Campbell into a fine save at the near post. The Spirit used their final sub to replace the injured Ordega with Cali Farquharson, who nearly scored with her first touch. This time, Church’s long 73rd minute free kick found Farquharson unmarked, but the third-year forward’s header bounced wide of the back post with Campbell beaten.
Those chances would haunt the Spirit, as the Dash scored a third in the 76th minute. Daly, who usually plays well against Washington, danced on the ball inside the box to freeze Dydasco. Again, the Spirit couldn’t sort out how to track runners, and Daly used the space her moves bought to roll a pass to Huerta, who steered the ball past Bledsoe and just inside the far post.
A year that feels like a curse carried on in the 81st minute. A loose ball at the top of the box fell to Hatch, who turned and hit a laser. The shot was at Campbell, but had enough on it that it went through her hands and off her shoulder. It briefly looked like the shot would go in, but instead caromed onto the post, then fell right into Campbell’s hands.
From there, it just got worse. Motlhalo’s pass forward to Daly at midfield didn’t seem that dangerous, but a quick exchange between Daly and substitute Kyah Simon ripped a stagnant Washington apart. Simon fed the ball wide to Latsko, who one-timed a pass back to Daly. Estelle Johnson was prepared for that, but wasn’t ready for Daly’s dummy, and no one tracked Simon, who buried the chance to make it 4-0.
This hellish season continues for the Spirit next Wednesday, when they host Utah Royals FC at the Maryland SoccerPlex.