Rose Lavelle lead the Washington Spirit to a win in their first NWSL Challenge Cup game, as they bead the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in Utah tonight. Lavelle opened the scoring in the 8th minute and created chances throughout her 66 minutes, while Ashley Hatch scored the eventual game-winner early in the second half. A goal from Morgan Gautrat brought Chicago back into the game, but the Spirit made their one-goal edge stand up.
Arguably the game’s most remarkable moment came before kickoff. Most — but not all — players from both teams opted to kneel during the national anthem in a protest against police violence against Black people nationwide. Chicago defender Casey Short and captain Julie Ertz both appeared overcome with emotion during the moment, which juxtaposed with several players opting to stand. In the day’s earlier game, all starters on both teams chose to kneel.
Chicago nearly scored in the game’s opening moments, with Vanessa DiBernardo’s shot from the edge of the box deflecting just wide, but the chance appeared to wake the SPirit up. Washington had a couple of decent attacks break down in response before taking a 1-0 lead in the 8th minute. Lavelle sent Ashley Hatch through on goal with a typically well-weighted through ball, but Hatch’s low shot was kick-saved by Alyssa Naeher. The rebound caromed towards the penalty spot, where Lavelle — who maintained her run — arrived to fire into the roof of the net.
Hatch was in behind the defense again in the 12th minute, this time on a pass from Jordan DiBiasi, but her shot from an angle was closed down very well by Naeher. While Chicago was able to create sporadic threats, often by isolating Kealia Watt on the wing, Washington was having much more of the play, with numerous quick raids forward in a game that was surprisingly open.
The combination of Hatch and Lavelle continued to trouble the Red Stars, and in the 42nd minute they changed roles to carve open last year’s losing finalists. Hatch checked off the front line before playing a clever flick through for Lavelle’s run, breaking the offside trap. In alone on her USWNT teammate Naeher, Lavelle seemed sure to score, only for Naeher to punch the shot away.
Chicago ended the first half with a brief push, but they’d rue the fact they didn’t equalize very quickly. Just 25 seconds into the second half, Hatch made it 2-0 with some pure opportunism. Sarah Gorden’s backpass left Naeher with time to keep the ball moving, but she opted to take a touch, and Hatch moved in to pressure. Naeher couldn’t get a second touch on the ball in time, with Hatch essentially tackling the ball over the goal line to pad Washington’s lead.
Washington’s good fortune didn’t last long. Vanessa DiBernardo’s attempted through ball was only partially blocked by Andi Sullivan, with the ball spinning right into the path of Morgan Gautrat, who had plenty of time and space to fire low past Aubrey Bledsoe, pulling the Red Stars within one in the 51st minute.
Lavelle fired a one-time shot just barely over the bar after good work from DiBiasi in the 53rd minute as the game kept up a breakneck pace after the goals, but both teams started to settle down a bit approaching the hour mark. Washington made use of the temporary change to substitution rules by bringing four players in at once in the 66th minute, with Lavelle among those withdrawn and new signing Jenna Hellstrom making her debut off the bench.
One of those substitutes, Bayley Feist, cut in from the right to create a glorious chance in the 80th minute. Her angled ball tore open an otherwise organized Chicago back four, giving Sanchez a great look at goal, but the rookie kept looking for a more perfect opening, allowing the Red Stars to recover and block her shot.
The Red Stars seemed to have more gas in the tank in the final ten minutes, putting the Spirit under some intense pressure. However, Bledsoe only had to make one notable save, denying Bianca St. Georges at the near post in the 89th minute after the rookie fullback overlapped into the area for Chicago.
At the other end, Spirit counters should have resulted in two different stoppage time goals. First, Sanchez repeated her earlier opportunity after a cross into the middle skipped past everyone. Moments later, a cross from Dorian Bailey found rookie Averie Collins at the near post, but the debutant’s header was touched onto the crossbar by Naeher. Ultimately, though, the late chances were beside the point, with Washington holding on to the 2-1 scoreline to start the Challenge Cup off with a victory.
The Spirit will be back in action on Wednesday, as their preliminary round schedule continues with a match against the North Carolina Courage at 10:00pm.
NWSL Challenge Cup - Preliminary Round
Chicago Red Stars 1 (Gautrat 51)
Washington Spirit 2 (Lavelle 8, Hatch 46)
Red Stars (433): Alyssa Naeher; Bianca St. Georges, Zoe Morse, Sarah Gorden, Casey Short; Vanessa DiBernardo (Katie Johnson 78), Julie Ertz (C), Morgan Gautrat (Danny Colaprico 86); Rachel Hill (Michele Vasconcelos 73), Yuki Nagasato (Makenzy Doniak 73), Kealia Watt (Savannah McCaskill 78)
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster (Jenna Hellstrom 66), Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Dorian Bailey 65); Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan (C), Rose Lavelle (Meggie Dougherty Howard 65); Kumi Yokoyama (Bayley Feist 65), Ashley Hatch (Averie Collins 86), Ashley Sanchez
Red Stars - None
Spirit - None