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Washington Spirit see two-goal lead slip away in 2-2 draw at Houston Dash

Paige Nielsen and Tori Huster had wonder goals, but the Spirit only got a draw after a two-goal Dash comeback

Jordan Small / Courtesy of Washington Spirit

The Washington Spirit raced out to a 2-0 lead, but had to settle for a 2-2 road draw with the Houston Dash. Excellent goals from Paige Nielsen and Tori Huster seemed to set the Spirit up for what would have been a huge road win under the interim leadership of former assistants Kris Ward and Paul Crichton — leading the team after the club reportedly fired Richie Burke after allegations of verbal abuse — but the Dash produced two goals in the final half hour to split the points.

Washington got off to a fast start. Seconds after a very strong penalty kick shout was rejected by referee Laura Rodriguez after Ashley Hatch’s shot was blocked by Megan Oyster’s hand, the Spirit took an 8th minute lead. A corner kick was half-cleared by the Dash, but Paige Nielsen — standing a few yards outside the box — hammered a full volley past goalkeeper Amanda Dennis for her first goal of the year.

The Spirit’s selective pressure was causing Houston all sorts of problems, and they nearly made it 2-0 in the 19th minute. An initial attack met a wall of orange, but the ball found its way to Saori Takarada, who delivered a lovely cross from the right to pick out Tara McKeown. The rookie beat Katie Naughton to the header, but though it got past Dennis, it kissed off the bottom of the crossbar, and Ashley Sanchez was called offside trying to stab the rebound home.

Sanchez tried to chip Dennis a couple of minutes later, with her effort going just inches too high, while Hatch was closed down by Dennis in another dangerous look as all the early chances were going to the Spirit.

It took half an hour, but Houston finally woke up to some extent with a response after switching to a diamond roughly 30 minutes in. Anna Heilferty had to produce a strong block at the back post to deny a Veronica Latsko shot from ten yards. Andi Sullivan repeated Heilferty’s intervention after Rachel Daly’s pass rolled across the box to Bri Visalli.

Washington were again denied what seemed like a clear penalty as Makamae Gomera-Stevens caught Takarada’s foot inside the box, but again the Spirit scored just moments later. McKeown’s hard work won the ball at midfield, and from there Tori Huster lead a solo charge after the Dash left a ton of space between the lines. In her 150th NWSL appearance, Huster wasn’t closed down, and sent a 20-yard bullet into the lower corner to make it 2-0 in the 53rd minute.

However, Houston has been the league’s most dangerous team from corners this year, while the Spirit have struggled over the past six weeks in the same category, and that’s how the Dash pulled a goal back in the 61st minute. A corner went untouched at the near post, striking Gomera-Stevens in the torso and falling on the doorstep for Veronica Latsko to smash into the roof of the net.

Houston moved into a back three as they tried to push for a winner, and for long spells it seemed like it wasn’t coming. However, out of a simple long ball from Daly, substitute Michaela Abam got Houston level in the 83rd minute. Daly’s ball appeared to hit Nielsen in the back before falling towards Abam and Sam Staab, and somehow the ball popped loose for a wide-open Abam inside the box, and the Cameroonian international wasted no time, calmly firing past Aubrey Bledsoe.

Houston nearly snatched a win four minutes later, with a ball over the top finding Latsko in behind everyone. Latsko was well-placed, but sliced her angled finish wide. At the other end, Kumi Yokoyama nearly scored with their first touch in the 90th minute, only for a strong tackle from Naughton to save the day for the Dash.

The Spirit (5W-4D-5L, 19 points) move up to 6th place with the draw, and return to action next Sunday, August 22, when they host the Orlando Pride at Audi Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00pm.


Box Score

NWSL Regular Season - Game 14
Houston Dash 2 (Latsko 61, Abam 83)
Washington Spirit 2 (Nielsen 8, Huster 53)

Lineups:
Dash (442): Amanda Dennis; Jasmyne Spencer (Michaela Abam 71), Megan Oyster, Katie Naughton, Jamia Fields; Bri Visalli (Michelle Alozie 64), Sophie Schmidt (Makamae Gomera-Stevens 46), Gabby Seiler, Shea Groom (Christine Nairn 77); Rachel Daly (C), Veronica Latsko

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Saori Takarada, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Anna Heilferty (Camryn Biegalski 89); Tori Huster (Taylor Aylmer 74), Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey; Tara McKeown (Trinity Rodman 58), Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez (Kumi Yokoyama 89)

Bookings:
Dash - Fields 67, Latsko 94+
Spirit - Huster 5