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Washington Spirit hang on for 0-0 draw at Portland Thorns

Despite heavy pressure, a battling Spirit side did enough to keep Portland at bay

Nikita Taparia

The Washington Spirit didn’t have a ton of the ball, but showed a steely resolve in gritting out a 0-0 draw against Portland Thorns FC. Despite being out-shot 21-5 and losing USWNT attacker Mallory Pugh to a first-half injury, the Spirit were largely able to frustrate the Thorns, who only looked truly dangerous in a few bursts late in both halves.

Portland had a surprise in store for the Spirit, fielding a 3412 lineup rather than their more customary 4231. However, despite the Thorns having plenty of possession and getting numbers into the attack, the game’s only notable early chance either way came as a turf bounce caught Sam Staab off-guard. Staab’s header back to Aubrey Bledsoe was well short, but Christine Sinclair’s lunging attempt to shoot went high and wide.

Much of the first half became a midfield battle, with both sides able to stymie their opponent with hard work and smart positional play. Just before halftime, Portland started to inch a bit closer on a pair of set pieces. First, a 39th minute corner was partially cleared, but Meghan Klingenberg served the ball back in towards Sinclair. Bledsoe did very well to prevent a connection between the two, and then somehow produced a mid-air kick-save on Sinclair’s shot from the resulting rebound. Moments later, Bledsoe had to beat multiple Thorns players to a long free kick that just fell into a dangerous spot.

The most notable first half development for Washington was a late injury to Mallory Pugh, who went down while trying to cut back during a Spirit counter-attack. While she was able to get back to her feet, the Spirit quickly opted to attempt a substitution, only for halftime to arrive before a stoppage in play. When the teams came back out, Pugh was replaced by Chloe Logarzo, while Tegan McGrady — in her first start since June 1 — came off for Jordan DiBiasi.

The Thorns took a more direct approach to start the second half, creating a flurry of looks inside the first five minutes. The Spirit blocked a pair of shots from close range, and then Emily Sonnett’s airborne backheel attempt skewed wide after a corner eluded Bledsoe.

After the Spirit had slowed the tempo for a few minutes, Portland had more looks. Andressinha had two shots in the 64th minute, but Tori Huster did well to block the first. With a wide-open second look, the Brazilian fired right at Bledsoe, who made sure to not concede a rebound.

Portland’s territorial dominance was allowing some unusual attacking moments, including Sonnett making more than one run into the attack from open play. While the Spirit threatened sporadically, they were often unable to get enough players forward to turn their attacking moves into true threats.

Nonetheless, the Spirit were holding up defensively. It wasn’t until the 84th minute, when a long-range Tobin Heath curler was wonderfully saved by Bledsoe, that Portland really began to turn their pressure into chances. Within the next three minutes, though, they had a loud shout for a penalty kick after Dorian Bailey poked the ball away from Midge Purce at the last moment. In the 87th minute, the best attacking move of the game from either team opened the Spirit up, but Purce had to reach out to take her shot, and fizzed the ball a foot over the crossbar.

That was the game’s final genuine chance, though Logarzo was winding up for a long-range shot in some space as referee Farhad Dadkho blew for full time. Washington concluded the 2019 season on a four-game unbeaten run, showing real promise that this young team can make a concerted run at a playoff spot next season. The draw allowed Washington to finish in 5th place, their best finish since falling on penalties in the 2016 championship final.


Box Score

NWSL Regular Season (Game 24)
Portland Thorns FC 0
Washington Spirit 0

Lineups:
Thorns (3412): Adrianna Franch; Katherine Reynolds, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges; Elizabeth Ball (Midge Purce 75), Emily Ogle (Dagny Brynjarsdottir 64), Lindsey Horan (Caitlin Foord 78), Meghan Klingenberg; Andressinha; Christine Sinclair (C), Tobin Heath

Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Jordan DiBiasi 46); Bayley Feist, Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey; Mal Pugh (Chloe Logarzo 46); Crystal Thomas (Meggie Dougherty Howard 81), Ashley Hatch

Bookings:
Thorns - None
Spirit - None