The Washington Spirit and Reign FC battled to a 1-1 draw tonight, with Andi Sullivan and Jess Fishlock exchanging second half goals at Cheney Stadium. Despite the home side missing 15 players due to injuries and World Cup duty, their high press forced the NWSL-leading Spirit to dig very deep to come away with a point.
The Reign produced a furious start, with Ifeoma Onumonu having a credible penalty shout during the game’s first moments. Referee Natalie Simon didn’t signal a call or advantage, and the ball rolled right to Bethany Balcer, whose curling shot glanced off the top of the bar. In the 5th minute, a pass backward from Arielle Ship went right to Balcer, who squared the ball for Bev Yanez. The veteran midfielder had a decent look, but skipped her effort wide.
The Spirit looked distinctly less comfortable in a flat 442 than they had in a 4312 in recent weeks, and it took them a while to settle into the game. Washington finally forced Casey Murphy to work in the 23rd minute, as Dorian Bailey won a 50/50 ball, took a touch, and fired from 25 yards. Bailey had eyes for the upper corner, but the 6’1” Murphy tipped it wide at full stretch.
Still, the Spirit’s distribution out of the back struggled at times as Reign FC pressed high, with the home side keying on Aubrey Bledsoe’s distribution at times. Balcer seemed to end up involved most of the time, shooting high twice as the half wore on. Tacoma made a serious push for a goal late in the first half, with Morgan Andrews having a long-range blast glance off a Spirit player for a corner. While the initial service didn’t pan out, a Lauren Barnes ball back in was just inches from being headed in by Jess Fishlock.
The Spirit had an initial move upfield go awry to start the second half, and within seconds Bledsoe had to produce a wonder save to keep the scores level. Balcer rounded Sam Staab to the right of the box, laying off for Fishlock. The Welsh international didn’t get clean purchase on her shot due to a last-gasp challenge from Meggie Dougherty Howard, but the ball still seemed destined for the back of the net until Bledsoe changed direction and pushed it away virtually on the goal line.
Fishlock appeared injured in the aftermath of that play, but returned to continue tormenting Washington. Tori Huster was booked in the 55th minute for a foul on Fishlock that was right on the edge of the box. Referee Natalie Simon had some choices to make in terms of whether it was a penalty kick and whether it was denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, but opted for a yellow card and a free kick from 19 yards that Reign FC couldn’t capitalize on.
Richie Burke responded with a 58th minute substitution, bringing Cali Farquharson on for Ship and changing his formation to a 4141. The move paid off instantly, as Farquharson evaded former USWNT defender Steph Cox — a Reign FC coach signed as a national team replacement player due to a staggering number of absences — to find Andi Sullivan at the edge of the box.
Sullivan, facing a 1v3 situation, appeared to have nowhere to go, but a quick shuffle of her feet froze the defense, and the Spirit captain surged forward before lashing a low shot past Murphy, giving the Spirit a 1-0 lead in the 62nd minute. The goal was the first of her NWSL career, and marked the second time Farquharson had produced an assist with her first touches after entering a game this year.
Fishlock was in the thick of two penalty kick shouts, asking for a handball and a foul within a 10 minute span after the goal, before finally removing any question by firing past Bledsoe in the 77th minute. The Spirit dealt with a floated cross from Theresa Nielsen, but couldn’t win the second ball, and amid the chaos that followed, Fishlock appeared to block a Tori Huster clearance attempt before tucking the ball past Bledsoe.
Sullivan had an 80th minute half-volley from outside the box blocked by a crowd of Reign defenders, but the final stages of the match largely consisted of the Spirit trying to possess and take the air out of the game. Nonetheless, Fishlock dispossessed Dougherty Howard in the 87th minute before stinging a 22 yarder right at Bledsoe.
In the end, Washington managed to hang on without further threats of note, and the Spirit extended their unbeaten run to a club-record six games. They’ll be back at the Maryland SoccerPlex next Saturday, June 22, hosting the Houston Dash on the team’s first-ever official Pride Night.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 8)
Reign FC 1 (Fishlock 77)
Washington Spirit 1 (Sullivan 62)
Reign (433): Casey Murphy; Theresa Nielsen, Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes (C), Stephanie Cox; Morgan Andrews, Jess Fishlock, Bev Yanez; Maegen Kelly (Kiersten Dallstream 69), Bethany Balcer, Ifeoma Onumonu
Spirit (442): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Megan Crosson (Crystal Thomas 84); Jordan DiBiasi (Carlin Hudson 66), Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Dorian Bailey; Ashley Hatch, Arielle Ship (Cali Farquharson 58)
Reign - None
Spirit - Huster 55