The Washington Spirit saw their winless run extended to five games tonight, falling 2-1 to the Houston Dash in front of a sellout crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Jordan DiBiasi gave the Spirit a lead early in the second half, but goals from Kristie Mewis and Amber Brooks gave Houston the lead. Mallory Pugh, on her return from winning the World Cup with the USWNT, had a stoppage time penalty kick stopped by Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
Despite temperatures that were hot enough to oblige the NWSL to move kickoff back an hour, the game got off to a more energetic start than Houston’s last trip to the Maryland SoccerPlex (a dull 0-0 draw last month). The Dash made several dangerous moves upfield looking for Kealia Ohai and Rachel Daly, while a long Sam Staab throw-in in the 21st minute nearly ended up becoming an own goal for the Spirit. Jane Campbell had to halt her momentum to get back across and make the save.
In the aftermath of that chance, the Spirit very nearly took the lead on a corner. The initial delivery didn’t amount to much, but Paige Nielsen kept the ball in at the back post, looping a high cross into the area. Amid the traffic, Andi Sullivan was wide open, but her volley thumped off the crossbar and away from danger.
A 33rd minute free kick from the Dash saw Houston celebrating a goal, but after a rather unorthodox discussion between referee Karen Abt and the bench-side AR, the goal was called back for offside. Replays did appear to show multiple players a step offside as Amber Brooks flicked the free kick into the box.
Sullivan went close again in the final seconds of the half, but a last-gasp tackle from Haley Hanson prevented her from getting a shot away. Campbell still ended up having to make a save, however, as the tackle sent the ball towards the bottom corner of the Dash goal.
After a roughly hour-long weather delay extended halftime, the Spirit forced Campbell into a strong save under a minute into the second half. Meggie Dougherty Howard’s pass started a sequence that eventually ended with Campbell having to reach up and tip Cheyna Matthews’ angled bid over the bar.
Washington’s wait wouldn’t last much longer. Sam Staab hurled a customary long throw-in towards the near post. Dash defender Allysha Chapman won the initial header, but it skipped off the top of her head to the back post, where Jordan DiBiasi raced in unmarked to nod the ball past Campbell in the 52nd minute.
Houston provided an immediate reply. Chapman’s 56th minute long ball seemed more hopeful than anything else, but the Spirit were unprepared, and Rachel Daly — in her first game since returning from England’s World Cup team — took possession. Daly back-heeled to Sofia Huerta in the box, and Huerta’s low cross picked out former Spirit midfielder Kristie Mewis for a close-range finish.
The game had hit a lull after the goal, which suited the visitors, who then took the lead on the game’s next real look in the 72nd minute. Christine Nairn, another former Spirit midfielder, floated in a dangerous free kick from 40 yards, and Dash center back Amber Brooks won her battle with Ashley Hatch, heading past Bledsoe from 8 yards.
Sullivan tried to will her side to a response, creating two quick chances with surging runs from midfield. On the second, Mallory Pugh — restricted to a quiet night by the Dash’s commitment to preventing passes in her directon — cut inside of Haley Hanson to shoot, only for Ally Prisock to make a diving block at the top of the box.
Richie Burke turned to his bench, giving Elise Kellond-Knight her team debut and bringing in Cali Farquharson and Chloe Logarzo in attacking positions, the Spirit labored to create an equalizer. Pugh took the ball wide in the 85th minute, crossing low from the right for Logarzo, who couldn’t quite make contact from point-blank range.
The Spirit appeared to finally have their reprieve in the 90th minute. Sullivan was sandwiched going up for a ball pumped into the box, and Abt pointed to the penalty spot. Pugh stepped up to take the spot kick, but Campbell — not for the first time this season — dove to her right to make the save, denying the Spirit a late equalizer.
The Spirit have a short turnaround before their next game, with a trip up 95 to face Sky Blue FC coming up Wednesday night.
NWSL Regular Season (Game 12)
Washington Spirit 1 (DiBiasi 52)
Houston Dash 2 (Mewis 56, Brooks 72)
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Amy Harrison (Elise Kellond-Knight 68); Andi Sullivan (C), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Jordan DiBiasi; Cheyna Matthews (Cali Farquharson 68), Ashley Hatch (Chloe Logarzo 79), Mallory Pugh
Dash (4231): Jane Campbell; Haley Hanson, Ally Prisock, Amber Brooks, Allysha Chapman; Christine Nairn, Sophie Schmidt; Sofia Huerta (Jamia Fields 87), Kristie Mewis, Kealia Ohai (C) (Kyah Simon 68); Rachel Daly
Spirit - Hatch 77
Dash - Huerta 70, Nairn 88