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Washington Spirit can’t solve NJ/NY Gotham FC, settling for 0-0 draw

Despite the return of fans at Audi Field, the Spirit couldn’t find the breakthrough in their final Challenge Cup match

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit got to play in front of fans at home for the first time since September 2019, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw with NJ/NY Gotham FC before a crowd of 2,039 at Audi Field. Despite peppering the Gotham goal with shots in the second half, Washington couldn’t repeat their previous dramatic win on Buzzard Point earlier in the NWSL Challenge Cup.

Richie Burke opted for a 433 formation after starting previous Challenge Cup matches in a 3421, bringing Ashley Sanchez into the midfield to add some creativity to a team that had scored one goal in their last two games. Burke added an unexpected wrinkle as well, deploying Kumi Yokoyama as a false nine and setting Ashley Hatch up as a left-sided forward to start.

Gotham, meanwhile, started the sharper of the two teams, raiding forward on the counter several times in the opening 10 minutes. An early Carli Lloyd shot went wide, while Midge Purce ended up cracking a shot off the post after holding off Emily Sonnett in the 7th minute.

The Spirit took the wake-up call, settling into far more confident possession play and spending much of the next few minutes camped out in the NJ/NY half. DiDi Haracic had to claim several crosses, and a good move involving Dorian Bailey, Sanchez, and Trinity Rodman perhaps deserved better than the eventual scuffed shot attempt from Sanchez in the 25th minute.

Still, Gotham posed a threat, and under pressure Sonnett’s attempt to play a square ball in a dangerous spot required great individual defending from Saori Takarada, who defused the resulting 1v2. Bledsoe had to make two notable saves, denying Paige Monaghan in the 29th minute and then Purce in the 38th. At the other end, a methodical Spirit attack ended with Sanchez firing wide from the top of the box in the 32nd minute.

The Spirit started the half in a more aggressive mood, with Andi Sullivan driving play forward and drawing a roar from the crowd. While that move didn’t end in a chance, Ashley Hatch’s pressure afterward did, with Haracic doing just enough to keep it out. The Spirit recycled the resulting corner, with Hatch eventually powering a header off the crossbar from eight yards in the 50th minute.

Washington continued to pressure Gotham, with Sullivan’s angled shot from 20 yards out forcing Haracic into a fingertip save in the 56th minute. Two minutes later, Sullivan thumped a near-post header just wide after meeting Tegan McGrady’s outswinging corner.

Gotham did have one break forward in the 75th minute, with Sonnett doing very well to slide in and block a potentially dangerous shot from Purce. The Spirit, after a lull, started to get back in charge, though, with Sullivan firing over and Rodman sending an effort wide from out on the left wing in the 88th minute.

The draw sees the Spirit finish the Challenge Cup with 4 points, meaning they will finish somewhere between 3rd and 5th in the East Division. Washington will have a couple of weeks off before the 2021 NWSL regular season begins, when they’ll head to Florida to take on the Orlando Pride on May 16.

Box Score

NWSL Challenge Cup - East Division
Washington Spirit 0
NJ/NY Gotham FC 0

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster (Camryn Biegalski 80), Emily Sonnett, Saori Takarada (Sam Staab 79), Tegan McGrady (Julia Roddar 62); Andi Sullivan (C), Ashley Sanchez, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Kumi Yokoyama (Anna Heilferty 62), Ashley Hatch

Gotham (4312): DiDi Haracic; Caprice Dydasco, Gina Lewandowski, Estelle Johnson, Imani Dorsey; Sodam Lee (Liz Eddy 60), Jennifer Cudjoe (McCall Zerboni 70), Nahomi Kawasumi; Carli Lloyd (C); Midge Purce, Paige Monaghan (Ifeoma Onumonu 60)

Spirit - Heilferty 88
Gotham - None