The Washington Spirit produced their most impressive result of the 2019 NWSL season today, going on the road to defeat the Chicago Red Stars 2-0. An early own goal and Ashley Hatch’s 63rd minute strike were enough goals for the Spirit to post their third straight win. The victory also moved them into a tie atop the NWSL standings.
Despite both teams missing their full contingent of World Cup-bound internationals, the Red Stars wasted little time in producing the game’s first chance. An 7th minute cross from the shade of the left wing crossed into the sun, possibly flummoxing Aubrey Bledsoe. Bledsoe tried to palm the ball out of bounds, but the ball stayed in, and Vanessa DiBernardo smartly volleyed the ball into the unguarded net. At the last moment, Paige Nielsen tracked back to acrobatically head the ball clear off the line.
Nielsen’s block proved to be arguably the game’s key moment, because within 90 seconds the Spirit took the lead. Jordan DiBiasi’s 9th minute corner picked out Sam Staab, who beat two defenders to head the ball on goal. Yuki Nagasato, guarding the post, blocked the effort, but the ball ricocheted right into the back of goalkeeper Emily Boyd, who had gone to ground trying to save the initial shot. Arielle Ship tried to make sure the ball got in, but before the Red Stars could clear, referee Lukasz Szpala signaled that the ball had crossed the line. The goal was the fourth from a corner for Washington in just six games.
Chicago spent a significant portion of the rest of the half in the Spirit’s half, playing quickly through the midfield. However, Washington’s back four managed to stop the Red Stars at the top of the box, with only a 39th minute curling shot from Katie Johnson going close.
A different sort of set piece gave the Spirit the first real chance of the second half. Staab’s long throw-in — a progressively important weapon for Washington — created the danger, with Ashley Hatch just missing with a header flicked towards the back post in the 52nd minute.
This sparked a quick flurry of chances at both ends. First, Hatch managed to keep the ball in on the endline before juking past Sarah Gorden. From an angle, Hatch opted for power, but her shot flew into the wrong side of the netting in the 53rd minute. The Red Stars came back up the field, offering up a slick passing movement that saw DiBernardo slip Johnson in on goal. Bledsoe read the danger, though, arriving just in time to close Johnson’s space and block her low shot.
Washington was on a more even footing since the break, and after both teams made a sub, the Spirit carved out a second goal in the 63rd minute. This time, Dorian Bailey — just minutes after coming in — kept a Spirit attack alive, picking up a loose ball after Wright had dispossessed Ship. Bailey went right back to Ship, who fired in a low cross that picked out a hard run from Hatch, who beat Katie Naughton to the near post and adroitly guided the ball past Boyd and in for her second goal of the season.
The Red Stars very nearly scored in the 73rd minute, as an early ball from DiBernardo picked out a run from Vasconcelos. The winger beat everyone to the ball, but with Bledsoe frozen to her line, Vasconcelos sent her header bouncing just wide, letting the Spirit off the hook.
Despite the rather disconnected play from the Red Stars, they went close again in the 83rd minute. A corner from DiBernardo found Wright, who headed the ball down into the goal mouth for Nikki Stanton, who lunged to poke the ball towards goal. Bledsoe might not have seen it until the ball was right up on her, but still made sure to wrap the ball up and avoid a rebound in traffic.
Washington had to hang on late, as Bledsoe was forced into point-blank saves on Casey Short and Jenna Szczesny deep in stoppage time, but in the end they were able to produce the first shutout by a visiting team against Chicago in over a year. The win moves the Spirit into a tie for first place with Utah Royals FC. That’s who they’ll face next, hosting a top-of-the-table clash at the Maryland SoccerPlex on June 1 at 7:00pm.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 6)
Chicago Red Stars 0
Washington Spirit 2 (Boyd 9og, Hatch 63)
Red Stars (4231): Emily Boyd; Casey Short, Katie Naughton (Jenna Szczesny 74), Sarah Gorden, Arin Wright; Brooke Elby (Maria Sahcnez 55), Nikki Stanton; Yuki Nagasato, Vanessa DiBernardo (C), Michele Vasconcelos (Zoey Goralski 75); Katie Johnson
Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Carlin Hudson 76); Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Cali Farquharson (Dorian Bailey 60); Jordan DiBiasi; Arielle Ship (Crystal Thomas 73), Ashley Hatch
Red Stars - Johnson 93+
Spirit - Dougherty Howard 16