Just when it seemed that the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville would settle for a scoreless draw, Ashley Sanchez’s volley three minutes into stoppage time handed the home side a 1-0 NWSL Challenge Cup victory at Audi Field.
Richie Burke, after getting some of this international players back, made two changes to the side that lost 3-2 in North Carolina last weekend. Saori Takarada returned after playing for Japan to play in the back three, allowing Tegan McGrady to push up into her more natural left wingback role. Up front, Trinity Rodman — who scored against the Courage — replaced Kumi Yokoyama.
Both teams traded looks from distance in an even early period, but the visitors had the game’s first serious chance. A mix-up after a throw-in saw Emina Ekic race away on the right, feinting inside of Natalie Jacobs before firing a shot that Aubrey Bledsoe did well to save in the 20th minute. Three minutes later, a heroic block from Erin Simon robbed Rodman of a second goal on the year after Tori Huster battled her way into space on the right to provide the initial service.
The Spirit’s wingbacks were the focal point for their more dangerous moves forward, but in truth both teams were able to contain each other for long spells in the first half. Burke, apparently sensing that his team needed a change to sharpen up, shifted into a 433, dropping Huster and McGrady into fullback roles while moving Julia Roddar into the midfield.
However, the first chance of the half went to Racing, with Yuki Nagasato — a Spirit killer over the years — firing narrowly wide from a good position in the 49th minute. The Spirit had a good look going the other way, with Rodman picking out Ashley Sanchez coming in from the left, but Sanchez fired right at Michelle Betos from an angle.
The Spirit began finding Sanchez more often, with ex-Washington center back Brooke Hendrix coming up with a timely block of another Sanchez shot just three minutes later. However, they were again fortunate just a minute later as a quick break saw Cece Kizer tee up Savannah McCaskill, who from an angle should have done better than fire into the outside netting.
However, the Spirit were growing into the game, with Hatch fizzing a shot from 20 yards just barely over the bar and Rodman forcing a tricky kick save from Betos in the next ten-minute span.
Still, Louisville’s more direct play was causing trouble of its own, with McCaskill worrying the defense with three different balls over the top. One of those saw Paige Nielsen and Katie McClure collide, and though referee Danielle Chesky took a long look at it, no penalty kick was awarded.
On the other end, in the 88th minute Rodman faked Erin Simon to the ground before cutting inside to curl a potential wonder goal just inches over the bar. Kumi Yokoyama, in for the possibly injured Hatch, forced Betos into a 90th minute save as well, while a 91st minute attack from Louisville saw Aubrey Bledsoe arrive just in time to shut down McCaskill’s lunging effort.
Finally, deep into stoppage time, the Spirit broke the deadlock. Some clever footwork from Huster in the midfield broke Louisville’s defensive lines open, and she fed Rodman into space on the right. From the endline, Rodman fired a cross into the box, where Sanchez volleyed home past Betos, who despite getting a touch to the ball couldn’t keep it out.
The win moves the Spirit into a three-way tie with North Carolina and Gotham FC atop the East Division for the time being. They’ll be back in action next Wednesday, April 21, with a road game against the Orlando Pride.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.
NWSL Challenge Cup - East Group
Washington Spirit 1 (Sanchez 93+)
Racing Louisville 0
Spirit (343): Aubrey Bledsoe (C); Saori Takarada, Paige Nielsen, Julia Roddar (Camryn Biegalski 75); Tori Huster, Natalie Jacobs, Dorian Bailey, Tegan McGrady; Trinity Rodman (Anna Heilferty 94+), Ashley Hatch (Kumi Yokoyama 81), Ashley Sanchez
Racing (4231): Michelle Betos (C); Erin Simon, Nealy Martin, Brooke Hendrix, Emily Fox; Freja Olofsson (Taylor Otto 78), Lauren Milliet; Emina Ekic (Katie McClure 72), Savannah McCaskill, Yuki Nagasato; Cece Kizer (Vanessa Kara 89)
Spirit - Roddar 60, Huster 80
Racing - Olofsson 49