The Washington Spirit once again left it late throughout the NWSL Fall Series, scoring an 88th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Red Stars on the road this afternoon. A 73rd minute finish from Savannah McCaskill appeared set to give the Red Stars a victory, but substitute Crystal Thomas saved the day with an 88th minute strike.
The Spirit started brightly, with Ashley Sanchez winning a dangerous free kick within 45 seconds. In the 4th minute, Katie McClure’s low cross from the right found Meghan McCool on the doorstep, but with Alyssa Naeher charging out just in time, McCool scooped her shot over the bar.
Eventually the game settled into a cagey rhythm, with both sides able to defend out of a mid-block without conceding much. Chicago had the game’s next chance in the 26th minute, with Sarah Luebbert just barely unable to get ahead to a Vanessa DiBernardo cross from six yards out.
Chicago was starting to take control, spending longer spells in the Washington half, with Kealia Watt denied by the post in the 32nd minute. Watt did very well to dance away from multiple Spirit defenders to get the window to shoot, but though her curling bid beat Aubrey Bledsoe, it hit the woodwork and bounced wide.
However, those two chances were the only looks at either end in the final 40 minutes of the first half, with both sides doing well enough in their defensive structures to shut each other down.
Richie Burke turned to his bench at halftime, bringing Crystal Thomas on for Meghan McCool and nearly getting instant dividends. The first thing Thomas did in the game was to strip Zoe Morse of the ball just outside the Red Stars box. Charging in on goal alone, Thomas looked high to beat Naeher, but blazed her 46th minute shot over the bar.
Washington looked more clear on how to attack Chicago coming out of halftime, with Kumi Yokoyama being caught offside on a promising attack moments before doing very well to slip Thomas into position for another shot in the 55th minute.
After a sustained spell of pressure from the Spirit, though, Chicago nearly put themselves up on the counter. Watt broke in behind the defense, and with no offside call coming, the Spirit had no one even close to catch up to her. Bledsoe came off her line, but Watt touched the ball past her. From an angle, though, it took too long for Watt to get control of the ball and set up a shot, and once Bledsoe and Paige Nielsen recovered, she was forced into a shot that flew high.
The Red Stars remained a threat on the counter, with center back Sarah Gorden sparking another dangerous attack on a solo run following a Spirit corner in the 63rd minute. Eventually substitute Jenna Hellstrom dragged her down, picking up a booking, and Savannah McCaskill forced Aubrey Bledsoe into a wonderful save from the resulting free kick.
Watt zipped a low shot wide in the 66th minute after another early ball in behind the Spirit defense caused trouble, but Washington nearly scored within seconds. The Spirit responded with a ball into space of their own, with Katie McClure beating Morse to the ball. McClure quickly opted to shoot, but though she beat Naeher, her effort flew wide.
With both teams creating chances, a goal was bound to arrive, and unfortunately for the Spirit, it ended up going to Chicago. Luebbert, after having a frustrating game up to that point, seized on a bit of space against Natalie Jacobs, getting to the endline before crossing low for McCaskill, who just barely beat Hellstrom to poke the ball home from barely two yards out.
Late drama has been a Spirit specialty in the Fall Series, and they did it again, notching an 88th minute equalizer. After a long spell of high pressure on the Red Stars, though, it was a gift of a goal: Thomas anticipated Camryn Biegalski’s attempt to pass back to Naeher, pouncing as the ball made its way back. Thomas nipped in before Naeher could get there, touching the ball past the USWNT goalkeeper and then doing very well to finish from virtually no angle.
Washington seemed to sense that the game might be there to be won, but ultimately neither side could put together one more dangerous chance, leaving the score level at full time. Washington, now 1W-1D-1L in the Fall Series, will wrap up its schedule in the Northeast Pod next Saturday with a trip north to face Sky Blue FC.
NWSL Fall Series - Game 3
Chicago Red Stars 1 (McCaskill 73)
Washington Spirit 1 (Thomas 88)
Red Stars (4231): Alyssa Naeher; Camryn Biegalski, Zoe Morse (Tierna Davidson 69), Sarah Gorden, Zoey Goralski (Bianca St. Georges 46); Danny Colaprico, Morgan Gautrat; Savannah McCaskill (Dani Rhodes 90), Vanessa DiBernardo, Sarah Luebbert (Aerial Chavarin 84); Kealia Watt
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe (C); Natalie Jacobs (Brooke Hendrix 75), Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Bayley Feist, Meggie Dougherty Howard (Jenna Hellstrom 38), Ashley Sanchez; Katie McClure (Jessie Scarpa 83), Kumi Yokoyama (Averie Collins 75), Meghan McCool (Crystal Thomas 46)
Red Stars - None
Spirit - McClure 30, Hellstrom 63