The Washington Spirit ran out 3-0 winners over the Orlando Pride this evening, using high pressure to dominate much of the game. Ashley Hatch gave the Spirit an early lead before Crystal Thomas and Tiffany McCarty bagged goals in the final half-hour as Washington’s relentless play eventually wore Orlando down.
Originally scheduled for August 31st, this game had to be rescheduled to the current international window due to Hurricane Dorian’s approach. With Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, and Andi Sullivan among the Spirit’s seven international absences, Richie Burke turned to a team heavy on high-energy players, emphasizing quick pressure on the ball in the Orlando half.
That approach paid immediate dividends, as Washington took a 5th minute lead. After breaking up multiple Orlando attempts to play from the back, the ball found its way to Ashley Hatch, who charged at a retreating Pride defense. With stand-in center back Dani Weatherholt standing off of her, Hatch touched the ball onto her left foot, curling a spectacular shot around goalkeeper Lainey Burdett.
Washington’s pressure on the ball defined the game’s first half, with the Spirit making it next to impossible for the Pride to get anything going. However, Washington was not able to generate many chances of their own, with a Hatch shot from the other side of the box shortly after her goal the closest either team came to scoring another goal.
Orlando finished the half in slightly better form, and turned Spirit mistakes into two quick opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the second half. An awkward attempt to settle the ball from Jordan DiBiasi handed the Pride possession at the top of Washington’s box, but Marisa Viggiano blazed her shot over the bar. Then, in the 53rd minute, Paige Nielsen was caught in possession by Danica Evans, but the Spirit defense collapsed in time to prevent a true breakaway.
Perhaps stung into action, Washington saw Crystal Thomas crack a shot just wide in the 56th minute after good work on the right from Tori Huster. They went even closer three minutes later, as Tiffany McCarty — making her first appearance of the season — won the ball on the counter-press. A quick series of passes got the ball back to the striker, whose powerful 25-yard strike was just barely tipped over the bar by Burdett.
At the hour mark, Huster nearly scored on her own, and the Spirit made the spell of dominance into a crucial second goal in the 62nd minute. A wayward backpass from Joanna Boyles went right to the alert McCarty, who immediately shuttled the ball to Thomas, who took off into the box. Boxed in along the endline, Thomas went for goal, firing a shot that went through Burdett’s legs, nestling in at the back post.
The Spirit nearly made it 3-0 seconds after the game kicked back off, with Hatch shooting right at Burdett from a promising position after more pressure manufactured yet another Pride giveaway.
Both teams made substitutions that were good news in and of themselves, with Tegan McGrady getting her first minutes for Washington since June 1st after overcoming a series of thigh injuries. For Orlando, Sydney Leroux came in for her first appearance at home since giving birth during the summer, drawing cheers from the crowd. Finally, in the 79th minute, the Spirit brought Shae Yanez in for Aubrey Bledsoe in what looked like a planned substitution to give the rookie her NWSL debut in goal.
In the game’s waning moments, McCarty capped an outstanding day’s work with a wonder goal. Bayley Feist surged into a pocket between the lines and dished to McCarty, who spun to fire a first-time, dipping strike over Burdett and just under the crossbar from 24 yards.
Though the playoffs are out of reach, the win pushes the Spirit up to 5th place heading into the final weekend of the NWSL season. They’ll finish up their 2019 schedule with a trip west, where they’ll take on the Portland Thorns next Saturday, October 12th, with kickoff set for 10:30pm Eastern.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 23)
Orlando Pride 0
Washington Spirit 3 (Hatch 5, Thomas 62, McCarty 85)
Pride (4231): Lainey Burdett; Kristen Edmonds (C), Morgan Reid, Dani Weatherholt, Carson Pickett; Joanna Boyles (Abby Elinsky 67), Bridget Callahan; Rachel Hill, Marisa Viggiano, Claire Emslie (Sydney Leroux 75); Danica Evans (Camila 72)
Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe (Shae Yanez 79); Tori Huster (C), Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Jordan DiBiasi (Tegan McGrady 72), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Bayley Feist; Crystal Thomas; Ashley Hatch, Arielle Ship (Tiffany McCarty 53)
Pride - Emslie 71
Spirit - Feist 1