After a mini-break for the final FIFA window before the Olympics, the Washington Spirit had victory snatched away from them in a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Red Stars. The goals took a while to come, but Trinity Rodman’s 85th minute strike, her first NWSL regular season goal, was cancelled out by a stoppage-time penalty from Morgan Gautrat.
The Red Stars came into the match having conceded just two goals in their last four matches, both in one match to the Houston Dash. The Spirit, meanwhile, have only been kept goalless in one match all season, and have the league’s second highest scorer in Ashley Hatch.
Richie Burke gave a surprise start to defender Camryn Biegalski, and with Emily Sonnett, Tori Huster, Tegan McGrady and Sam Staab joining her on the back line in a reshuffled 433 formation.
The match started with high intensity as both midfields were dogged about not letting the other wriggle out toward goal. Though the first big chance of the match fell to the Red Stars via Mallory Pugh, via a long throw into the box from Sarah Gorden. The Spirit didn’t handle the ball in with much confidence and it eventually fell to Pugh whose shot flew wide.
After Rory Dames’ master class that stifled the North Carolina Courage, Burke and the Spirit knew it would be tough to get the ball to stick in the attacking third. Ten minutes in and the Red Stars had already hunted in packs to dispossess any Spirit attacker on the ball. After about twenty minutes the Red Stars started to identify a route to attack. Once they’d won the ball, it was quickly knocked down the Spirit’s left defensive side behind Tegan McGrady, dragging Sam Staab into 1v1s. One such sequence led to Kealia Watt rounding Staab but shooting directly at Bledsoe, another was worked for a low cross that flashed across goal before rolling harmlessly into the far side of the pitch.
Unfortunately, just under fifteen minutes before halftime, Ashley Hatch has to be replaced after trying to play through a clash of heads with Tierna Davidson. The cameras showed a good portion of Hatch undergoing tests to determine if she could go back into the match, and after seeming to pass them she was allowed to come back on. About ten minutes later Hatch would go down again, and Tara McKeown was subbed in to replace the NWSL’s second-leading goalscorer in the 35th minute. The Spirit did well to regroup after the early substitution, which should have fallen under the league’s new Concussion Protocol, but apparently didn’t because a wrong form was used.
Both clubs went into halftime at 0-0 and probably feeling equally good about their ability to defend the other. The Spirit managed four shots with just two on target, while the Red Stars had four shots as well but the only one on target was the best chance of the half — Watt’s strike eventually held by Bledsoe.
The second half began as the first ended, with both teams fighting for control over midfield with neither a clear victor. Though the Red Stars were able to break down the wings at times, the Spirit defended well to make sure that nothing dangerous reached Bledsoe. Then it was the Spirit’s turn, as a misplayed bounce by DiBernardo allowed Sanchez to latch onto the ball and drive at Alyssa Naeher for Washington’s best chance to this point. Sanchez held off Krueger to drive into the box and unleash a shot but Naeher palmed it away via a diving save.
Kelley O’Hara, who was restricted to thirty minutes by U.S. Soccer, replaced Camryn Biegalski at right back in the 63rd minute. Five minutes later Natalie Jacobs replaced Emily Sonnett. The USWNT defender went down with a leg injury that didn’t seem too serious, but wasn’t worth risking further aggravation. The Sonnett substitution caused an interesting lineup tweak as Sullivan dropped into central defense next to Staab, while Jacobs stepped into defensive midfield.
Sensing that the rejiggering might give them their best chance to snatch three points, Chicago is growing in confidence and pushing higher up the pitch to win the ball in dangerous areas. Mallory Pugh gets behind McGrady for Chicago’s second best chance, but the angle was wide and Pugh’s shot can only hit the outside of the post. The Red Stars certainly sense that they can get the winning goal in the last ten minutes and are opening up.
Minutes later, the Red Stars were punished for their aggression as Rodman gave Washington the lead. It was similar to her first pro goal, with Andi Sullivan this time supplying a measured long ball that caught Rodman in stride. From there, Rodman held off the Chicago defense before firing low past Naeher in the 85th minute.
Now the Spirit had some bounce, and Rodman and Sanchez nearly combined for another good effort on goal. Rodman held the ball up on the left wing before playing a precise square ball to Sanchez at the edge of the top of the box. Sanchez flashed some nice footwork to work an angle by a defender but took a beat too long to shoot and had her effort blocked.
Then, a gut punch.
A handball from Sam Staab gifted the Red Stars an opportunity to equalize in stoppage time, and Gautrat found the bottom corner of the net after sending Bledsoe the wrong way. Staab claimed the ball hit her side, but referee Karen Abt wasn’t buying it, and both teams had to settle for a share of the points.
Washington will remain on the road for another week, as they’ll visit Kansas City NWSL for the first time next Saturday, June 26 at 8:30pm.
NWSL Regular Season - Game 6
Chicago Red Stars 1 (Gautrat 92+pen)
Washington Spirit 1 (Rodman 85)
Chicago (4231): Alyssa Naeher; Casey Krueger, Kayla Sharples (Bianca St. Georges 64), Tierna Davidson, Sarah Gorden; Morgan Gautrat, Sarah Woldmoe; Rachel Hill (Katie Johnson 63), Vanessa DiBernardo (C) (Ella Stevens 93+), Mallory Pugh; Kealia Watt
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Camryn Biegalski (Kelley O’Hara 63), Emily Sonnett (Natalie Jacobs 68), Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch (Tara McKeown 35)
Chicago - Dames 88 (on bench)
Spirit - None