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Washington Spirit fight hard but can’t overcome early red card in 3-2 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC

The Spirit scored twice while playing short-handed after Sam Staab’s early, controversial red card, but still fell to Gotham at Segra Field

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit fought hard but fell 3-2 to NJ/NY Gotham FC at Segra Field today. An early and highly controversial red card for Sam Staab saw the Spirit forced to play with ten for over 80 minutes, and despite wonderful goals from Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez, Gotham got the win on goals from Nahomi Kawasumi, McCall Zerboni, and Midge Purce.

Richie Burke made just one change to the side that played remarkably well in a 2-0 win over North Carolina last weekend, and it was enforced by injury. Tori Huster was questionable all week after being hit by a shot in the Courage game, and the Spirit ended up leaving her out of this game. Ashley Sanchez moved into a midfield role as a result, with Tara McKeown completing the front line.

An early turnover undid the Spirit’s positive start, with Sam Staab eventually bundling Midge Purce over as the Gotham attacker raced into the box. Referee Karen Collado gave the foul inches outside the box and initially gave Paige Nielsen a red card, only to later rescind that and instead send Staab off, apparently ruling that — despite the clear presence of Nielsen in proximity to the ball — Staab had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.

The news was bad, but Spirit were undaunted, taking a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. Andi Sullivan, who dropped into the back four after the red card, had time to go over the top for Trinity Rodman, who had peeled out wide left. Rodman got to the top of the box before cutting across Caprice Dydasco, and before Gina Lewandowski could close the angle, the rookie bent a beautiful shot around DiDi Haracic for her third goal of the regular season.

Gotham looked for a quick response, with Purce forcing Bledsoe into two good stops in the next nine minutes. The visitors had multiple corners during that spell, and eventually one panned out in the 24th minute. Dydasco’s delivery picked out Ifeoma Onumonu, who directed the ball on goal. Tegan McGrady managed to block that shot on the line, but the rebound fell right to Nahomi Kawasumi, and the Japanese veteran made no mistake from three yards out.

Bledsoe denied Purce again after a cross from the left picked her out on the doorstep, while she and Onumonu briefly appeared to be both in behind before Nielsen and Sullivan combined deep in the penalty area to prevent a shot.

The pressure kept coming, and Gotham turned another Dydasco corner into a 2-1 lead. This time, Dydasco’s delivery to the near post found an open McCall Zerboni, and the Gotham captain made no mistake with her unmarked header, floating it over the crowd and in at the back post in the 35th minute.

Washington, who made no substitutions to adjust to the red card, kept the game open, and despite the action mostly happening in their defensive end, they nearly snatched an equalizer late in the half, as Ashley Sanchez’s shot from the right side of the box was barely tipped away by Haracic.

The Spirit had the first chance of the second half, with Rodman crossing from the left to Sanchez, whose lunging shot attempt could only send the ball wide, as a halftime move to a 441 — with Rodman moving up front, and Ashley Hatch being replaced by Mariana Speckmaier — seeming to unsettle Gotham.

Washington started the half well, and got equal with a stunner from Sanchez in the 56th minute. From all of 25 yards out, Sanchez sized up a free kick before bending the ball over the Gotham wall and back down, beating Haracic at full stretch to level the score in spectacular fashion.

Purce and Dydasco both had long-range shots go high from long range as Gotham tried to re-assert themselves, with the Spirit having to defend at length. Imani Dorsey saw a long-range blast clip the post on its way wide in the 72nd minute.

Gotham’s pressure paid off in the 76th minute, with Purce finally breaking through after several earlier chances. Delanie Sheehan — seconds after she had subbed in — found Onumonu, who skipped a cross in behind the Spirit defense, and Purce met it at the back post for a simple tap-in to give the visitors the lead again.

Washington pushed for an equalizer, with substitute Camryn Biegalski’s tempting ball from the right flank giving Speckmaier a chance. However, Haracic was out just barely fast enough, and Speckmaier couldn’t square up to face goal before glancing the ball wide in the 84th minute.

Unfortunately for Washington, Gotham managed the game from there, effectively killing off stoppage time and consigning the Spirit to a second straight loss at Segra Field. The defeat sees the Spirit (4W-3D-3L) fall to 6th place on 15 points. After three straight at home, the Spirit will head out on the road next Sunday, July 25, when they’ll face Racing Louisville at 3:00pm.

Box Score

NWSL Regular Season - Game 10
Washington Spirit (Rodman 13, Sanchez 56
NJ/NY Gotham FC (Kawasumi 24, Zerboni 35, Purce 76

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Anna Heilferty (Camryn Biegalski 81), Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Chinyelu Asher 81); Andi Sullivan (C), Ashley Sanchez, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman (Karina Rodriguez 64), Ashley Hatch (Mariana Speckmaier 46), Tara McKeown (Kumi Yokoyama 74)

Gotham (433): DiDi Haracic; Caprice Dydasco, Gina Lewandowski, Estelle Johnson, Imani Dorsey; McCall Zerboni (C), Allie Long, Gaëtane Thiney (Sodam Lee 61); Midge Purce, Ifeoma Onumonu (Elizabeth Eddy 85), Nahomi Kawasumi (Delanie Sheehan 75)

Spirit - Staab 7 (red)
Gotham - Long 51, Purce 92+