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Aubrey Bledsoe stars as Washington Spirit, Reign FC battle to 0-0 draw

An intense game full of chances somehow ended up goalless

Kelley Piper

Despite a flurry of late chances at both ends, the Washington Spirit and Reign FC had to settle for a scoreless draw last night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. An intense, physical affair was controlled by the visitors in the first half, before the Spirit were more dangerous in the second. Still, they had to rely on a scintillating performance from Aubrey Bledsoe, who saved the best of her 9 saves for the very end.

Vlatko Andonovski’s side came to high press, and they dominated the game’s early stages as a result. However, other than a 5th minute blast from out wide by Rumi Utsugi, serious chances for the Tacoma-based side were few and far between.

The Spirit, without Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh after their World Cup call-ups, stuck with their familiar 433 but opted to deploy playmaker Jordan DiBiasi as a false 9 up top. A 21st minute look underscored what head coach Richie Burke was looking for: DiBiasi dropped into the midfield, drawing the Reign defense upfield, before sending Ashley Hatch down the left in isolation against Theresa Nielsen. Hatch used a stepover to freeze Nielsen and knife into the box, only to slice her shot high and wide.

The Spirit offered some occasional glimpses despite Reign FC’s early dominance. A lovely, flowing move in the 34th minute saw Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and DiBiasi dissect the Reign defense, but Megan Crosson’s eventual cross was blocked behind for a corner. DiBiasi’s back-post service was headed just wide by Sam Staab, though referee Jasmine Peralta claimed a deflection, sparking a series of corners that Washington couldn’t quite turn into a true chance.

Bledsoe had to come off her line twice in the final minutes of the half to slap the ball away from the feet of former Spirit striker Jodie Taylor, with Dougherty Howard having to provide a potentially goal-saving tackle on Shea Groom in the aftermath of the second instance. Between those chances, Reign FC had Groom running one-on-one with Paige Nielsen. It was a dream scenario for Andonovski’s side, but Nielsen stood strong, waiting Groom out before making a clean tackle to end the threat.

Burke brought Cheyna Matthews in for Amy Harrison, who appeared to need treatment at halftime, and got an immediate impact. A 47th minute cutback from Matthews found Sullivan, who made a long sprint to join the attack, but Michelle Betos was equal to the Spirit captain’s low shot. On the resulting corner, DiBiasi’s near-post service nearly found Matthews slashing across goal, only for Betos to somehow emerge from the chaos with the ball.

Within 30 seconds, Matthews was involved again, combining with Sullivan to force a turnover. Sullivan sent Matthews into the area, but after cutting past Lauren Barnes, she could only fire right at Betos.

In the 51st minute, Matthews was at it again, slipping Hatch into space on the left side of the box. Hatch could have waited for runners, but a shuffle of her feet created an opening to ping a low shot that seemed destined for the corner, only for Betos to make another stop. In six minutes of second-half play, the Spirit had more shots on goal (3) than they had shot attempts in the entire first half (2).

Washington nearly saw the game slip away in the 71st minute. A simple long ball up the wing found Groom, who picked out Taylor’s run between the Spirit center backs. The English striker’s first-time shot slipped through Bledsoe’s hands at first, but she managed to smother the rebound before the ball rolled over the line.

Australia international Chloe Logarzo and rookie winger Bayley Feist both came in for their Spirit debuts as the half wore on, but Matthews continued to be in the thick of the action. In the 81st minute, Matthews torched Theresa Nielsen at midfield, but eventually opted to shoot from distance rather than find the open DiBiasi at the top of the box.

Washington had bossed the second half, but Bledsoe ended up being the star thanks to a pair of spectacular late saves. First, a Reign FC corner kick fell into a crowd in the 85th minute. Substitute Bethany Balcer couldn’t believe her luck as the ball rolled into her path, but her point-blank shot was brilliantly repelled by the Spirit ‘keeper.

The sequence became another corner, and as the Spirit tried to work that service clear, the game’s most controversial moment came to pass. McNabb appeared to both handle the ball and foul Matthews, but no call was coming. McNabb’s attempted volley then struck Matthews in the arm, possibly inside the box. Peralta booked Matthews, but awarded a free kick from 19 yards rather than a spot kick. Substitute Elise Kellond-Knight bent her shot over the wall, but with the game on the line, Bledsoe came up with another great stop.

Washington still had chances to win it at the death. The Spirit cleared a 90th minute Reign corner, and all the sudden Matthews and Logarzo had a two-on-two counter-attack. Matthews was clipped by McNabb, but stayed on her feet; that may explain the hesitation that followed, as she turned down the chance to send Logarzo in alone on goal. Matthews cut to the left and shot, but Barnes got a foot in, deflecting the potential winner just barely wide with Betos beaten.

In virtually the final play of the game, Logarzo won a loose ball before combining with DiBiasi. Suddenly in a pocket of space, Logarzo flashed some outrageous moves to freeze Barnes and nutmeg Oyster, but her final touch to set up a shot just barely got away from her, letting Celia Jimenez Delgado make a tackle.

Now on four points, the Spirit will be back in action next Saturday, when they travel up I-95 to take on Sky Blue FC at Yurcak Field at 3:00pm.


Box Score

NWSL Regular Season (Game 3)
Washington Spirit 0
Reign FC 0

Lineups:
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Dorian Bailey, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Megan Crosson; Amy Harrison (Cheyna Matthews 46), Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard (Bayley Feist 80); Cali Farquharson (Chloe Logarzo 67), Jordan DiBiasi, Ashley Hatch

Reign (433): Michelle Betos; Theresa Nielsen, Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes (C), Celia Jimenez Delgado; Kristen McNabb, Rumi Utsugi (Elise Kellond-Knight 72), Beverly Yanez; Shea Groom, Jodie Taylor (Maegen Kelly 83), Darian Jenkins (Bethany Balcer 46)

Bookings:
Spirit - Matthews 86
Reign - Barnes 88