The Washington Spirit have made a major emphasis about forgetting the past, and they cut one connection to recent seasons by defeating Sky Blue FC 3-2 on a sunny afternoon in New Jersey. The victory was the Spirit’s first away from the Maryland SoccerPlex in 13 games, dating back to a 2-1 win at this venue on September 10, 2017. Cheyna Matthews lead the way, scoring goals in either half, while rookie Jordan DiBiasi bagged her first professional goal as well.
After Sky Blue had more of the ball in the opening stages, the Spirit began to settle in. A solid possession spell in the 15th minute ended with Andi Sullivan putting a move on Caprice Dydasco to open up room to cross to the back post. With DiDi Haracic frozen to her line, the ball fell to Jordan DiBiasi, who couldn’t get enough purchase to steer a golden chance over the line.
In the 21st minute, the Spirit broke through. A perfect long ball from Sam Staab found Matthews in stride, and in behind the defense. Matthews didn’t get a good first touch with her first attempt, but the ball looped up into her path again. After a second shot was closed down by Haracic, Matthews had virtually no angle, but somehow fired a laser into the roof of the net from virtually on the endline, handing the visitors the lead in the 22nd minute.
The Spirit were buoyed by the goal, but within 10 minutes Sky Blue had worked their way back into the game with diagonal balls out to the wings. That idea finally worked in the 32nd minute, as Savannah McCaskill’s angled run broke the offside trap. With plenty of time to pick her pass, McCaskill drew a desperation tackle from Paige Nielsen before cutting the ball back towards the top of the box, where Raquel Rodriguez won the race to the ball and fired home.
McCaskill was at in again in the 38th minute, wisely checking her run just in time to get onside before Kawasumi sent her running in behind. McCaskill was in alone behind the defense, but from an angle saw her shot skip wide of Aubrey Bledsoe’s right-hand post.
Moments later, McCaskill got into space yet again, cutting the ball back for Kawasumi. The Japanese international seemed to have an excellent chance to score as she charged into the box, but a spectacular saving tackle from Sam Staab bailed the Spirit out.
Richie Burke shuffled the deck to see out the half, dropping Sullivan into the deepest midfield role as the Spirit held on for the break. At halftime, Sullivan returned to her role on the right side of midfield, with Tori Huster — still recovering from a recent hip injury — being replaced by Dorian Bailey at right back.
The game turned on a sequence of plays shortly after halftime. A dangerous Sky Blue break forward saw Paige Nielsen booked in the 54th minute for hauling down McCaskill to prevent a breakaway. The home side may have wanted a red card, but referee Tori Penso felt there was not a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
Sky Blue sent the resulting free kick right to Bledsoe, who alertly rolled the ball out into space for Amy Harrison. Harrison sprinted forward on the counter before finding her compatriot Logarzo, who in turn picked out DiBiasi inside. A quick exchange to the left of the area saw Harrison pick out DiBiasi’s late run, and the rookie did the rest, side-footing home for her first professional goal in the 55th minute.
The goal seemed to boost Washington, and after a spell of dominance, the Spirit struck again. Cali Farquharson — just seconds after replacing Logarzo — found a pocket of space as the Spirit transitioned into the attack, slipped Matthews through a seam in the Sky Blue defense. Domi Richardson slid in to try and prevent a shot, but Matthews was too quick, blazing her effort past Haracic and giving the Spirit a 3-1 lead.
However, Sky Blue didn’t quit. Sarah Killion hit a looping shot onto the top of the bar in the 74th minute, and then the New Jersey club pulled a goal back in the 80th minute. A crossfield ball from McCaskill, who had dropped deep, picked out substitute Amandine Pierre-Louis on the right wing. Pierre-Louis did well to get to the ball, crossing with her first touch. Dorsey, running from deep, arrived unmarked to nod the service past a helpless Bledsoe.
Sky Blue’s risk-taking opened the game up, but the Spirit recovered well from Dorsey’s goal, seeing the game out with the kind of possession-oriented soccer Burke has preached since taking over as head coach. The visitors thought they had a fourth goal in 82nd minute, as Hatch took advantage of the space afforded by Sky Blue throwing numbers forward. Hatch broke in alone on goal, drawing Haracic off her line. The former Spirit goalkeeper made a strong save on the initial shot, but Hatch beat everyone to the rebound to put the chance away. However, Penso called the goal back, saying Hatch had handled the rebound off of Haracic before shooting.
Hatch had what turned out to be the game’s final look in the 87th minute, holding off Richardson before turning to fire, only for Erica Skroski to produce a potentially goal-saving block from the edge of the six-yard box.
The win moves the Spirit into 4th place on 7 points, though they could be overtaken by the Portland Thorns or Chicago Red Stars before the weekend is out. They’ll be back in action next Saturday, as they host the Thorns at the Maryland SoccerPlex at 7:00pm.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 4)
Sky Blue FC 2 (Rodriguez 32, Dorsey 80)
Washington Spirit 3 (Matthews 22, 68; DiBiasi 55)
NJ (4141): DiDi Haracic; Paige Monaghan, Erica Skroski, Domi Richardson, Caprice Dydasco; Julie James (Gabi 76); Nahomi Kawasumi (Amandine Pierre-Louis 73), Sarah Killion (C), Raquel Rodriguez, Imani Dorsey; Savannah McCaskill (McKenzie Meehan 86)
Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster (Dorian Bailey 46), Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Amy Harrison (Carlin Hudson 84); Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Jordan DiBiasi; Chloe Logarzo (Cali Farquharson 66); Ashley Hatch, Cheyna Matthews
NJ - None
Spirit - Dougherty Howard 27, Nielsen 54