Despite attempting 18 shots and having the lion’s share of possession, the Washington Spirit were kept at bay by Utah Royals FC in a 0-0 draw at the Maryland SoccerPlex last night. The absences of USWNT stars Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh (both injured) were felt as the Spirit largely dominated the game, but couldn’t produce the final pass or shot to take what would have been a vital three points.
The Maryland SoccerPlex’s lightning detection system ended up being the early story of the game. With just 93 seconds played, the infamous horn sounded, sending players to the locker rooms and fans to the parking lot. A delay of nearly 90 minutes ticked away before the game finally resumed.
Washington came out of the delay and nearly took a quick lead. Ashley Hatch blocked a casual Rachel Corsie pass out of the back, then moved inside before unleashing a right-footed blast from 23 yards. Nicole Barnhart hopped up to guide the shot over the crossbar. Elise Kellond-Knight put the resulting corner into a dangerous spot, but in the chaos, Chloe Logarzo’s close-range shot struck a crowd of Utah defenders, and the danger dissipated.
Washington were having the better of the game, using a high line of contention to keep forcing turnovers while confidently maintaining the bulk of possession. However, Becky Sauerbrunn and the Utah back four kept producing last-second interventions, keeping the home side at bay.
The pressure started to tell just before halftime, as the Spirit finally started to get into the area with regularity. Jordan DiBiasi pounced after Desiree Scott’s header went astray in the 41st minute, sending Hatch through on goal. A sharp recovery from Katie Bowen forced Hatch to pull the ball back, though, and her eventual shot was blocked by Corsie.
Two minutes later, Sam Staab’s header following a short corner routine came very close to giving her center back partner Paige Nielsen a look at goal. Barnhart closed the angle well though, and from the endline Nielsen could only direct the ball over the bar.
An enterprising run from Crystal Thomas nearly sparked a goal in the final moments of the half, but Barnhart just barely arrived to punch Tori Huster’s cross away from the lurking Hatch.
Moments into the second half, Washington carved out their best chance yet. Logarzo flicked on a Kellond-Knight corner kick, only for Utah to once again get in the way. The Australian international tried to steer the rebound across goal to Andi Sullivan, but Corsie made an acrobatic intervention. Meggie Dougherty Howard collected the half-clearance, and lofted in a left-footed effort that was destined for the top corner. However, Barnhart spoiled Dougherty Howard’s bid for goal of the week, slapping the ball around the post.
Utah finally offered up a bit of a threat, as Christen Press broke free in the 52nd minute. Press escaped Dougherty Howard, then nutmegged Huster before getting into the Spirit box. Nielsen was all alone against one of the NWSL’s best players, yet came up huge, getting her angles right and blocking Press off of the ball cleanly.
The play seemed to awaken the USWNT forward, who went even closer a minute later. Press initially lost out to Nielsen again, but unfortunately for the Spirit the ball bounced right to Lo’eau LaBonta, who immediately sent Press in behind. Cutting in from the right wing, Press fired, only to be denied by a sterling save from Aubrey Bledsoe. The Spirit tried to pass the rebound out of danger, but Press won it back instantly. On the turn, she shot again from an angle, only for Bledsoe to make another brave stop.
Gaps started to show as Washington tried to produce a winner. With the Spirit still pushed up high after an attack, Press tried to slip Amy Rodriguez in alone on goal. Huster got a foot to the pass, but couldn’t cut it out, and Rodriguez had her break. Fortunately for Washington, Rodriguez scooped the ball just over the crossbar, leaving the game scoreless.
Washington made one last push for a winner, but an 88th minute cross from substitute Cheyna Matthews saw DiBiasi’s shot met with yet another Utah block. Sullivan collected the rebound, but got under her attempt.
Sullivan went much closer in stoppage time. Hatch won a foul near the intersection of the box and endline along the left, and Sullivan opted to try to sneak the ball in at the near post. Barnhart read her intentions, though, and just barely got there in time, spoiling the Spirit’s bid for a dramatic victory.
NWSL Regular Season
Washington Spirit 0
Utah Royals FC 0
Spirit (4312): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Elise Kellond-Knight (Dorian Bailey 63); Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan (C), Chloe Logarzo (Cheyna Matthews 76); Jordan DiBiasi; Crystal Thomas (Bayley Feist 86), Ashley Hatch
Utah (4312): Nicole Barnhart; Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie, Becky Sauerbrunn (C), Mallory Weber; Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, Desiree Scott, Lo’eau LaBonta (Katie Stengel 81); Vero Boquete; Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez
Spirit - Kellond-Knight 5
Utah - Press 50