A stellar first half was enough for the Washington Spirit, who rode a Bayley Feist goal to a 1-0 win over the Houston Dash at the NWSL Challenge Cup. Feist’s 16th minute goal was the highlight of a strong opening half, but Washington lost their way after halftime, especially following an injury to Andi Sullivan, leading to a nervy finish.
Despite being without Rose Lavelle and Jordan DiBiasi — both held out with knocks in the hopes that they’ll be fit for the knockout round — Washington got off to a fast start. A 3rd minute corner kick found Bayley Feist, whose header towards goal deflected to Kumi Yokoyama. The Japanese international’s close-range shot on the turn beat goalkeeper Jane Campbell, but Dash captain Rachel Daly was on the line to clear it in the nick of time.
The Spirit were looking dangerous, and capped off a dominant start with a superbly worked team goal in the 16th minute. A pass from Sam Staab broke through the midfield, allowing some wonderfully timed passes from Feist, Yokoyama, and Hatch to draw Dash defenders out of position. Feist, still on the move after her early involvement in the attack, needed one touch to get the ball onto her right foot before placing a 19-yard shot through a gap in the defense and into the bottom corner.
Washington was in top form, peppering Campbell’s goal with shots while confidently taking ownership of possession (they held 69% in that category by halftime) and routinely finding their forwards on the run. However, a rare slip from Tori Huster gave the Dash one dangerous look in the 41st minute, with Daly’s angled shot flashing across the face of goal.
It had been an excellent afternoon for the Spirit, but the good vibes took a hit when Andi Sullivan had to leave the game with a worrying injury early in the second half. However, after needing a few minutes to get sorted, Washington went back to work, with Ashley Sanchez leaving Erin Simon for dead before teeing Hatch up from point-blank range. Hatch, however, didn’t get clean purchase on her shot, leaving Campbell with a simple near-post save.
The final half-hour saw Houston grow into the game, while Washington lost the sharpness that characterized their first half display thanks in part to the changes in the midfield. Sensing that his group was on shaky footing, Richie Burke used his final substitutions to change from a 433 to a 541 and giving center back Brooke Hendrix her club debut.
It wasn’t pretty, but Washington’s defense ultimately held up. Aubrey Bledsoe did have to charge out to beat Daly to a 90th minute through ball, and did well to snag a cross deep in stoppage time, but that was all the Dash pressure could produce against a tiring Spirit defense.
Washington will find out their quarterfinal opponent after games tonight and tomorrow, with those games set for July 17-18.
NWSL Challenge Cup - Preliminary Round
Washington Spirit 1 (Feist 16)
Houston Dash 0
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Jaye Boissiere 46); Dorian Bailey, Andi Sullivan (C) (Meggie Dougherty Howard 51), Bayley Feist; Kumi Yokoyama (Katie McClure 71), Ashley Hatch (Jenna Hellstrom 77), Ashley Sanchez (Brooke Hendrix 77)
Dash (433): Jane Campbell; Erin Simon (Haley Hanson 64), Ally Prisock, Katie Naughton, Allysha Chapman; Shea Groom (CeCe Kizer 87), Sophie Schmidt, Kristie Mewis; Rachel Daly (C), Katie Stengel (Bri Visalli 77), Veronica Latsko (Nichelle Prince 64)
Spirit - None
Dash - Naughton 13, Schmidt 47+