The Washington Spirit continued their impressive late-season form tonight with a 2-0 win over OL Reign. Setting aside Covid-19 protocol-related forfeits, both sides came into the match unbeaten in their last seven, but the Spirit notched their third win in an outstanding week with goals in either half from Taylor Aylmer and Ashley Hatch, who took over the NWSL Golden Boot lead with her 10th of the season.
Facing their fourth game in the last ten days, the Spirit could have been excused if they fielded a heavily rotated team. Instead, acting head coach Kris Ward made just two changes to the side that beat North Carolina 2-1 mid-week: Julia Roddar, fresh off of her first NWSL goal, replaced Paige Nielsen at the back, while Aylmer came in for Tori Huster in central midfield in what was the Rutgers product’s first league start. Team captain Andi Sullivan (knee) flew to join the team after missing Wednesday’s win, but ultimately ended up being left off the team sheet.
Both sides had good early looks: Rose Lavelle found a Kristen McNabb service just out of reach in the 4th minute, while Eugénie Le Sommer’s attempted lob from an angle was tipped to safety by Aubrey Bledsoe in the 10th minute. Tara McKeown had an even better look in the 14th minute after winning the ball off the Reign defense, but skipped her shot wide of Sarah Bouhaddi’s goal.
With both teams attacking, the Spirit stunned the home side to take a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. Julia Roddar’s cross from the left fell at the back post, with no Reign player attacking the ball. As it bounced up, Aylmer calmly lobbed the ball back across goal, floating it over the stranded Sarah Bouhaddi for her first NWSL goal.
Washington were energized by the goal, but couldn’t quite turn several dangerous attacks into a bigger lead. The Reign finally saw a prolonged spell of pressure in Washington’s end, with Lavelle trying to surprise Bledsoe from out on the right wing with a shot disguised as a cross that glanced off the far post. Lavelle then teed Fishlock up for a 44th minute shot from 20 yards that flew just wide as the Reign sharpened up in the final minutes of the half.
Despite the Reign bringing in established starters Dzsenifer Marozsán and Quinn at halftime, the Spirit came out looking comfortable, and expanded their lead in the 59th minute. Washington forced a turnover at midfield and broke forward, with Trinity Rodman touching the ball on for the sprinting Ashley Hatch. Four defenders converged, but no one made a tackle, allowing Hatch to unleash a rocket from 25 yards that whistled past Bouhaddi, giving Hatch the NWSL Golden Boot lead.
The Spirit nearly added a third just three minutes later, with Ashley Sanchez intercepting a pass at midfield to create a three-on-two break. Sanchez found Rodman, who beat Bouhaddi with her shot, but Fishlock produced a miraculous block on the goal line after sprinting all the way back.
The Reign began a major late push to find a way back into the game, with Sofia Huerta’s first dangerous foray up the Spirit left all night causing arguably the best look of the game for the home side in the 78th minute. Bledsoe blocked the low cross, but though Le Sommer pounced on the rebound, she was only able to shoot into the outside netting while falling down.
Washington began falling back and focusing on some more safety-first soccer, opting for defensively-oriented substitutions and making the narrow Cheney Stadium field dimensions feel like as small as a futsal venue. The best the Reign could do were hopeful shots from Lavelle, and one 93rd minute shot from Le Sommer, who skewed the ball wide again while falling over under pressure.
The win means that the Spirit (10W-6D-7L, 36 points) stay in 3rd place after briefly falling behind Chicago — who won earlier tonight — and keeping remote hopes of actually securing a first-round bye alive. That scenario would require the Spirit to win their season finale, an October 31st meeting with the Houston Dash at Audi Field, and a Reign loss the day before that at Kansas City. It also means that if either Houston or North Carolina lose tomorrow (or if the Courage draw), Washington’s place in the playoffs is secure.
Watch Washington Win #RGNvWAS | @Nationwide pic.twitter.com/5Kx2JnUs1M— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 17, 2021
NWSL Regular Season - Game 23
OL Reign 0
Washington Spirit 2 (Aylmer 22, Hatch 59)
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Bledsoe (C); Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar (Tegan McGrady 72); Taylor Aylmer, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman (Saori Takarada 92+), Ashley Sanchez (Tori Huster 82), Ashley Hatch (Kumi Yokoyama 92+); Tara McKeown (Anna Heilferty 72)
Reign (4312): Sarah Bouhaddi; Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Lauren Barnes (C), Kristen McNabb; Angelina (Dzsenifer Marozsán 46), Dani Weatherholt (Quinn 46), Jess Fishlock (Ally Watt 85); Rose Lavelle; Eugénie Le Sommer, Megan Rapinoe (Bethany Balcer 70)
Spirit - Roddar 65, Rodman 81
Reign - Barnes 28, Le Sommer 48