The Washington Spirit picked up a massive 2-1 win on the road tonight against the North Carolina Courage in a game that was previously rescheduled after NWSL players demanded a stoppage in the schedule after allegations of abuse. Julia Roddar’s first-ever NWSL goal midway through the second half was the winner, helping propel the Spirit above the Courage in the incredibly tight NWSL standings.
The Spirit — playing without injured captain Andi Sullivan (knee) — set a positive early tempo, pushing their fullbacks up and challenging the Courage to defend deep in their own half. However, moves at both ends ended up being snuffed out, with Emily Sonnett making two key interceptions at midfield to prevent dangerous NC counters in the game’s opening stages.
The teams exchanged good looks midway through the half, with Lynn Williams firing wide from 17 yards at one end, while Ashley Hatch sent Ashley Sanchez through for a shot that Casey Murphy did well to save in the 33rd minute.
Just as the half was settling into a cagey finish, Washington forced the issue to take a 40th minute lead. Tara McKeown chased down a soft pass before blocking Kaleigh Kurtz’s attempt to play it upfield, getting in deep before crossing. Hatch couldn’t quite get a shot away under pressure from Abby Erceg, but the ball caromed to Trinity Rodman, whose shot through traffic pinged off of Erceg and flying past a wrong-footed Murphy.
The Courage pushed for an early equalizer after halftime, with Williams denied by an excellent Aubrey Bledsoe save following a 51st minute short corner. Bledsoe then had to react quickly to tip a 55th minute Debinha cross away from lurking NC attackers.
That pressure eventually resulted in a Courage goal on the hour mark. Jess McDonald got into the box on the dribble, getting to the endline before firing a low ball towards the goalmouth. The service somehow evaded five players, but found Meredith Speck at the back post for a finish that just was just barely out of Bledsoe’s reach.
Washington had some attacking moves, but Bledsoe had to stop a powerful Williams shot in the 68th minute after NC forced a midfield turnover. However, just two minutes later, the Spirit re-took the lead. Dorian Bailey’s corner kick was half-cleared, but fell to Julia Roddar, who steered a low shot through a tiny window and into the bottom corner past an unsighted Murphy. The goal was the silver medalist’s first in NWSL.
The home side had a major push back in the 74th minute. First, McDonald thumped a shot off the intersection of the post and crossbar, and just seconds later, Williams saw a low shot denied by a spectacular Bledsoe save in a wild sequence.
However, after that great escape, the Spirit were able to slow the pace of play down, stringing together spells of possession and keeping the game bottled up 50-60 yards from Bledsoe’s goal. The best courage look came in the 89th minute, with former Spirit defender Taylor Smith’s cross fizzing through the goalmouth but mercifully going untouched.
From there though, the Spirit saw the game out with little drama, picking up an enormously important win. The victory sees the Spirit (9W-6D-7L, 33 points) climb above North Carolina in the NWSL playoff chase, though their final spot won’t be known until three other games around the league finish up later tonight. Washington’s busiest spell of the season comes to a close this Saturday, October 16, with a daunting cross-country flight to face OL Reign in Tacoma.
NWSL Regular Season - Game 22
North Carolina Courage 1 (Speck 60)
Washington Spirit 2 (Erceg 40og, Roddar 70)
Courage (4222): Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg (C), Carson Pickett; Cari Roccaro, Denise O’Sullivan; Debinha, Meredith Speck (Amy Rodriguez 69); Jess McDonald (Taylor Smith 78), Lynn Williams
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Paige Nielsen (Julia Roddar 46), Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Kelley O’Hara; Tori Huster (Taylor Aylmer 73), Ashley Sanchez (Kumi Yokoyama 81), Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman (Tegan McGrady 75), Tara McKeown (Anna Heilferty 46), Ashley Hatch
Courage - Kurtz 31
Spirit - None