Despite breaking an NWSL record goalscoring drought, the Washington Spirit closed their 2018 season out with a 1-1 draw against Sky Blue FC. A game that was moved to Sunday morning after lightning forced a move from the originally scheduled Saturday night start time saw the visitors waste a first half penalty kick before Arielle Ship gave the Spirit their first goal since July 7th. However, Sky Blue pulled themselves level via a late strike from Sarah Killion.
Interim coach Tom Torres, left with 15 healthy and available players, started three national team replacement players in Washington’s final lineup of the season. Zoe Clark and Megan Crosson started on the back line, while former Spirit forward Tiffany McCarty returned to the Plex to start on the wing in a 4231.
The visitors, despite a daunting schedule that will see them play another game on Tuesday night, came out looking far sharper than the Spirit. Replacement player Megan Crosson had to break up a 4v4 inside the Spirit box early, and moments later Madison Tiernan forced Aubrey Bledsoe into a solid save. The New Jersey-based side then had near-misses from Shea Groom and McKenzie Meehan, the latter of which was a sitter created by good one-touch passing down the Spirit left.
Sky Blue thought they had a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute, but Tiernan’s header on a precise Erica Skroski cross missed the back post by inches. Fans may have been fooled as the ball bounced against the back netting of the goal, but had the shot been on frame, the offside flag had also gone up.
That miss woke Washington up, and the home side finally created their first chance. Caprice Dydasco’s ball back in after a half-cleared corner wasn’t held by Kailen Sheridan, but with the goal empty and the ball just 7 yards away, no Spirit player could get the final touch. Minutes later, Sheridan was possibly bailed out by a puzzling call from referee Mike Hohnholz after Havana Solaun beat Sarah Killion and Skroski on the dribble, but when Meggie Dougherty Howard and Sheridan collided after Solaun’s pass, a foul was called on the Spirit midfielder.
There were fewer doubts at the other end in the 26th minute, as Hohnholz called McCarty for a foul on Killion inside the Spirit box. There were few complaints, as the tackle came in from behind and missed the ball, but Shea Groom’s penalty kick thumped off the crossbar and away.
A clearance from Crosson caught the Sky Blue defense out in the 40th minute, with Francisca Ordega — who had previously been bedeviled by offside calls — appearing to be in alone. However, at the last second, Domi Richardson slid in to poke the ball away, ending what looked like a glorious Washington opportunity.
The second half carried on in a similar pattern, with Sky Blue owning most of the possession and chances. A 57th minute through ball from Killion sent Groom in alone on Bledsoe, but her attempt to round the Spirit goalkeeper went awry. The ball was still loose, requiring Whitney Church to shield off Meehan, but in the end no shot materialized.
The opportunity seemed to spark the Spirit to life. Ordega got into a great spot only to be robbed by another last-gasp tackle, this time from Amanda Frisbie, in the 59th minute. The resulting corner was fired wide by McCarty at the back post, and within a minute Ordega was once again taking aim, only to find the outside netting from an angle.
In the midst of that spell, the Spirit brought Arielle Ship on for Cali Farquharson, and the move played a big part in Washington breaking a league-record goalless streak in the 71st minute. Solaun played Ordega through on goal, only for Sheridan to make a top save at Ordega’s feet to deny the Nigerian. The play appeared dead, but Ordega kept it alive by making sure the ball didn’t get over the endline, and Ship beat numerous New Jersey defenders to Ordega’s low service on the doorstep.
Field level view of @arielle_ship’s go-ahead goal! #WASvNJ pic.twitter.com/Lz35GebDeS— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) September 2, 2018
The goal ended a 765-minute goalless drought for the club, and came in Ship’s second appearance since tearing her ACL last year.
Sky Blue didn’t let the goal deflate them In the 78th minute were denied by the crossbar again. This time, Meehan picked up a bobbling pass from the right that got past multiple players before firing past Bledsoe, only for the ball to smack the crossbar and bounce away from follow-up runners.
The Spirit seemed to be keeping control of proceedings from there, but Sky Blue produced a wonderful equalizer in the 87th minute. Tiernan’s cross from the endline went into traffic, but a clever dummy from Groom gave Killion just enough room to produce an inch-perfect shot over Bledsoe and into the upper corner.
Both teams desperately tried to find a late winner to give themselves some consolation in what are a pair of lost seasons, but in the end both goalkeepers were up to the challenge of snagging numerous crosses, preserving the 1-1 scoreline.
The Spirit close the season with a record of 2W-5D-17L, making 2018 their worst season from a statistical perspective. Whether they’ll finish in 8th or 9th place comes down to whether currently winless Sky Blue can suddenly finish their season with a two-game winning streak. Anything less will see Washington finish in 8th, saving them from some dubious history.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.