The Washington Spirit kept their incredible season going, defeating OL Reign 2-1 in the NWSL semifinals today. Goals from the Spirit’s dynamic young duo of Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez allowed them to overcome an early strike from Eugénie Le Sommer, and a determined defensive effort allowed them to pick up just their third playoff win in club history.
Heavy rains in the Pacific northwest in the days leading up to the game left its status in doubt, but ultimately the match was able to kick off as scheduled. Unfortunately for the Spirit, after a brief bit of pressure that nearly resulted in goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi giving the ball away in the box, they fell behind early.
The Reign broke forward to the left, with Dzsenifer Marozsán dropping off the forward line in characteristic fashion. The German international scooped the ball into space on the left for Megan Rapinoe, who managed to fire a low cross to the back post just out of reach of Emily Sonnett’s lunge, and Eugénie Le Sommer’s perfectly-timed run gave her a simple tap-in after escaping her markers.
Washington was wobbling, with Rapinoe firing wide after good work from Jess Fishlock, but from nowhere, they were level in the 11th minute. The Reign gave Sam Staab time to measure a ball over the top, and as has been the case all year, that was a recipe for disaster. Staab picked out Rodman’s run off of Lauren Barnes’ shoulder, and the Rookie of the Year frontrunner did the rest, beating Bouhaddi to the ball and gently guiding it home from just inside the box.
The goal helped the Spirit settle down, and Rodman had the ball in the back of the next again in the 19th minute, nodding in Andi Sullivan’s free kick delivery. Sadly though, she was caught going a step offside just before the ball was served in.
After a spell of Reign pressure, Tara McKeown — having switched to the right — feinted inside of Kristen McNabb and curled a 36th minute shot towards the bottom corner that Bouhaddi just barely tipped wide.
Still, as much as the Spirit grew into the game as the half wore on, they nearly fell behind in the 45th minute. Sofia Huerta found a pocket of space on the right touchline and delivered a perfect ball over the top for Le Sommer in behind the defense. Aubrey Bledsoe did just enough to put her off though, staying big and not committing until late, and while Le Sommer’s lob cleared Washington’s veteran goalkeeper, it floated wide.
The Reign had the first chance coming out of the break, with Marozsán turning down a shooting chance to square for Rapinoe, who struck with power but saw her shot fly wide of Bledsoe’s left-hand post. Washington replied immediately, with Ashley Sanchez somehow escaping along the endline to lay it off for Rodman, whose one-timer was a yard off target. A clever sequence from the Reign freed Le Sommer up in the 66th minute, but despite having plenty of space, she skipped her low shot safely wide.
It was a miss the home side would come to regret, as Sanchez improvised a wonder goal two minutes later. Sullivan’s corner was knocked down, with Sanchez picking it up on the endline. A first shot attempt didn’t work out, but with defenders lurking, Sanchez used the outside of her foot to delicately curl the ball over Bouhaddi and just barely in at the opposite post.
OL Reign pushed aggressively to get back level, with Emily Sonnett blocking numerous shots — including two efforts from her USWNT teammate Rapinoe in the 78th minute — as the Spirit defended in numbers inside their box. Laura Harvey brought multiple forwards in as the Reign threw the kitchen sink at the Spirit, but the home side only truly gave Washington one scare, as Le Sommer’s 90th minute header trickled wide.
The win sends the Spirit to next Saturday’s NWSL Championship, which will be played in Louisville at Lynn Family Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00pm Eastern.
NWSL Playoffs - Semifinal
OL Reign 1 (Le Sommer 3)
Washington Spirit 2 (Rodman 11, Sanchez 68)
Reign (433): Sarah Bouhaddi; Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Lauren Barnes (C) (Ally Watt 86), Kristen McNabb; Rose Lavelle, Quinn (Bethany Balcer 66), Jess Fishlock (Dani Weatherholt 75); Eugénie Le Sommer, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Megan Rapinoe
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Bledsoe; Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Julia Roddar 72); Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez (Taylor Aylmer 91+), Tara McKeown (Anna Heilferty 79); Ashley Hatch (Paige Nielsen 91+)
Reign - Rapinoe 88, Watt 89
Spirit - O’Hara 61