The Washington Spirit continued a tremendous start to the 2019 NWSL season, knocking off Utah Royals FC 2-0 in a top-of-the-table clash at the Maryland SoccerPlex last night. Ashley Hatch scored for a third straight game to give the Spirit a first half lead, and rookie Dorian Bailey made sure of the win by mopping up after Hatch’s attempt at a brace came back off the post.
The Spirit began proceedings in a confident manner, repeatedly getting pressure on the ball and largely dictating the early terms. That dominance set the stage for them to open the scoring in the 23rd minute. Makenzy Doniak poked the ball away from Jordan DiBiasi at midfield, but it rolled right into the path of Tori Huster, who advanced up the right side before sliding a diagonal pass to Hatch at the top of the box. Hatch took over from there, holding off a challenge from Gaby Vincent, running a near circle around Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, and spinning to pick out the bottom corner from 19 yards. Hatch’s goal was the first-ever goal for Washington against Utah, who had shut the Spirit out earlier this year and twice in 2018.
The Spirit had been in total control, but nearly suffered a disaster in the 26th minute. Vero Boquete’s through ball appeared to be too close to Huster, but her attempt to cut the pass out ended up directing the ball in behind the defense, allowing the previously offside Amy Rodriguez to pick the ball up without a flag coming up. Just as Rodriguez got into shooting range, though, Paige Nielsen produced an excellent sliding tackle to knock the ball out for a corner instead.
Still, the story was the Spirit’s dominance in midfield. After forcing another turnover in the 31st minute, Washington strung together a long spell of possession before a one-two between Arielle Ship and Huster along the right side broke through Utah’s resistance. Ship’s pass to Dorian Bailey drew Vincent out, allowing Bailey a great look on goal. The rookie shifted her feet to fire low, but was cruelly denied by the post.
Bledsoe finally had to make a true save in the 35th minute, and it ended up being a tricky one. A simple long ball out of the back found former Spirit striker Katie Stengel, whose clever flick-on found Rodriguez sprinting right between the center backs. Rodriguez tried to catch Bledsoe by surprise by shooting with her first touch, but though Bledsoe seemed to need a moment to judge the ball’s trajectory, the Spirit goalkeeper got down to push the ball aside just in time.
Huster continued to be the source of many of Washington’s chances. This time, with Royals FC standing off in the 38th minute, Huster found Hatch in a similar spot as she had on the Spirit’s opening goal. Hatch this time laid the ball back for Andi Sullivan, whose 24-yard bid flew about a yard over the bar.
The second half saw more of the same, with the Spirit’s ability to beat Utah to the spot time and again leaving Royals FC trapped in their own end for long spells. Sullivan did wonderful work to beat two Royals players on the run before firing a left-footed shot from the top of the box that deflected out for a corner.
DiBiasi prompted a sequence around the hour mark that forced Utah into two blocked shots before the Stanford product found her fellow rookie Bailey. Unfortunately for the Spirit, Bailey couldn’t quite get the ball out from under her feet fast enough, and the game remained 1-0.
Utah were starting to spread things out at the same time, with substitute Erica Tymrak adding to their attack. In the 65th minute, Tymrak started wide before cutting inside on Huster, then finding Rodriguez. The former USWNT striker’s shot got through traffic, but Bledsoe’s positioning allowed her to make the save despite seeing the ball late.
After both teams made 67th minutes substitutions, the Spirit saw their addition make a major impact within 3 minutes as they took a 2-0 lead. Sullivan won the ball at midfield with a strong tackle on Tymrak, and Cali Farquharson turned the loose ball quickly upfield, playing Hatch in behind everyone from Utah bar Vincent. Hatch raced into the are before shooting low across goal, beating Barnhart but not the post. This time, however, the Spirit were first to the rebound, with Bailey tucking the ball away to double Washington’s advantage.
Aside from one strong save from Bledsoe in the 77th minute on Rodriguez, the Spirit were mostly able to see the game out in style, moving into a 4231 and using their possession to starve Royals FC of opportunities to get themselves back into the game. In fact, the best chance of the game’s final moments fell to the Spirit, as substitute Megan Crosson played Farquharson in behind, only for Farquharson to get under her attempt to pad the lead.
The win, a fourth straight for Washington, moved the Spirit all alone atop the NWSL standings on 16 points. They’ll look to keep their streak going after the NWSL takes next week off, traveling to Tacoma, WA to face Reign FC on Saturday, June 15.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 7)
Washington Spirit 2 (Hatch 23, Bailey 70)
Utah Royals FC 0
Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Megan Crosson 72); Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Dorian Bailey (Bayley Feist 84); Jordan DiBiasi; Arielle Ship (Cali Farquharson 67), Ashley Hatch
Utah (4312): Nicole Barnhart (C); Michelle Maemone, Gaby Vincent, Samantha Johnson, Becca Moros; Mandy Laddish (Mallory Weber 67), Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, Makenzy Doniak (Erica Tymrak 59); Vero Boquete; Amy Rodriguez, Katie Stengel (Alexa Newfield 72)
Spirit - None
Utah - None