The Washington Spirit started the Richie Burke era off right, defeating Sky Blue FC 2-0 in the NWSL season opener for both sides. Rookie Sam Staab scored the game’s only goal, powering a shot through traffic in the 59th minute following a Mallory Pugh corner kick. Deep into stoppage time, Megan Crosson padded Washington’s lead with a point-blank header following another cross from Pugh.
The visitors started the game on the front foot, pinning the Spirit in with a high line. An 11th minute cross from Nahomi Kawasumi picked out Carli Lloyd at the back post, and the Maryland native floated a clever header over Aubrey Bledsoe only to be denied by the crossbar.
Washington kicked into gear in reply, with Pugh serving a wonderful ball in from the right side in the 14th minute. Cheyna Matthews took a touch before trying to steer the ball past Kailen Sheridan. Sheridan made the initial save, only for Ashley Hatch to crush a shot into the back of the net from virtually on the goal line. However, Matthews had been flagged offside on the initial service, denying the Spirit the opening goal.
The Spirit started to carry the game a bit more, with a Sam Staab long throw-in in the 25th minute eventually falling to Meggie Dougherty Howard. From 19 yards, Dougherty Howard blistered a shot towards goal. Sheridan had no chance, but the ball soared inches over the bar, keeping the scores level.
The New Jersey-based side weren’t out of the game by any stretch of the imagination, though, and a 30th minute opportunity eventually bounced to Lloyd, who produced a backheel from 6 yards out. Bledsoe and the rest of the Spirit defense were beaten, but Tegan McGrady — in her pro debut — cleared the ball off the line for Washington.
Washington showed real urgency straight after kicking the second half off, with Andi Sullivan sending Dougherty Howard into the area from deep. Dougherty Howard’s pass to Matthews may have clipped a stray Sky Blue arm, but as the Spirit appealed for a handball, Matthews, spun onto the loose ball and fired on goal, only for Sheridan to produce a spectacular save.
Washington was dominating possession, and finally made it pay off in the 59th minute. Sheridan got the initial punch to a Pugh corner. Chaos erupted in the area, with a blocked shot and an attempted pass pinballing the ball around the area. That last rebound fell kindly for Sam Staab, and the rookie capped her professional debut with a powerful low strike through traffic, delighting a home crowd that barely ever saw Washington take a lead at home in 2018.
Sky Blue pushed their lines up high in response, with the teams battling it out in the midfield for a spell. The visitors finally got a real chance in the 72nd minute, as a Domi Richardson corner kick found Lloyd at the back post. Lloyd won the battle for the ball to head on frame, but Bledsoe reacted in time to tip the ball over the crossbar. Bledsoe did well several minutes later, closing down the angle on substitute Paige Monaghan’s angled bid after the offside flag the Spirit expected never came up.
Both teams were going for a late goal, but the Spirit came up with most of the good looks. Crosson seemed sure to tap it home, only for the cross to skip past. However, in the 92nd minute, that same duo linked up again, with Pugh driving in a cross that Crosson, at full sprint, powerfully headed past Sheridan, giving the Spirit a winning start after such a tough 2018 campaign.
Washington will be back in action next Saturday, going on the road to face Utah Royals FC.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 1)
Washington Spirit 2 (Staab 59, Crosson 92+)
Sky Blue FC 0
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Meggie Dougherty Howard (Dorian Bailey 78), Andi Sullivan (C), Jordan DiBiasi; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch (Cali Farquharson 69), Cheyna Matthews (Megan Crosson 69)
NJ (442): Kailen Sheridan; Caprice Dydasco, Domi Richardson, Estelle Johnson, Erica Skroski; Nahomi Kawasumi, Julia James (Paige Monaghan 67), Sarah Killion (C), Imani Dorsey (McKenzie Meehan 85); Raquel Rodriguez (Jen Hoy 78), Carli Lloyd
Spirit - None
NJ - None