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Washington Spirit dig deep in comeback 2-1 win over Kansas City NWSL

Tara McKeown’s first pro goal was the game-winner as the Spirit finally returned to action after two Covid-19 protocol-related forfeits

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit overcame a rocky first half to pick up a critical 2-1 win over Kansas City NWSL today at Segra Field. After 28 days without a game due to Covid-19 protocol violations caused two games to be forfeited, the Spirit looked rusty, falling behind on a Darian Jenkins goal and struggling in the first half, Washington came back thanks to an Andi Sullivan penalty kick and Tara McKeown’s first-ever NWSL goal, which came just seconds into the start of the second half.

Starting for just the fourth time this season, Kumi Yokoyama missed just wide on a 4th minute chance after a combination with Anna Heilferty, but the visitors — who looked lively going forward — took the lead in the 8th minute. Victoria Pickett drew Spirit players before playing the ball wide to Darian Jenkins, who was given plenty of space on the wing as Julia Roddar stood off. Jenkins took advantage, juking inside of Roddar before firing a shot that went through traffic to beat Aubrey Bledsoe at the near post.

Odd bounces on the Segra Field turf are a regular occurrence, and after foiling several Washington attacks, it nearly gave them an equalizer. A ball that seemed destined to hop towards AD Franch instead popped straight up, allowing Ashley Sanchez to heel-flick the ball over the USWNT keeper. Franch just barely recovered, claiming the ball under pressure from Sanchez just four yards from goal.

Kansas City kept having the vast majority of chances. Hamilton couldn’t make contact from point-blank range after Jenkins nodded the ball to her in a good spot, while Bledsoe had to produce a tremendous near-post save as Victoria Pickett again sent Jenkins in behind in the 31st minute. Emily Sonnett had to produce a flying block to deny Jenkins soon thereafter, with Hamilton pushing past Roddar to create the chance.

Washington had struggled throughout the half, but went in level thanks to an Andi Sullivan penalty kick. Kelley O’Hara, who started as a winger for the first time since joining the team, posted up on Kiki Pickett just inside the KC box, and with Pickett momentarily wrapping an arm around her, O’Hara fell. Referee Karen Abt pointed to the spot after a moment, and despite KC protests, Sullivan tucked the penalty away to Franch’s right with the last kick of the first half.

Despite that, the Spirit needed changes, and acting head coach Kris Ward went for a quadruple sub at halftime, bringing Tori Huster, Dorian Bailey, Trinity Rodman, and Tara McKeown in. That paid off instantly, with McKeown scoring her first NWSL goal 11 seconds into the half. Washington tried to work right up the middle from kickoff, but though KC intercepted Huster’s pass forward, Hailie Mace tried to lay the ball back, and McKeown pounced. The rookie collected the ball before skipping a 19-yard shot past Franch and into the bottom corner, giving the Spirit a stunning lead.

Washington’s changes also saw them shift into more of an asymmetrical 4312, and Kansas City seemed confounded after their confident first half display. Bledsoe did have to make a sharp 70th minute save as substitute Addie McCain nodded a set piece on frame from close range on an opportunity that ended up being called offside, but Washington were largely able to protect their lead by keeping possession and keeping the game far from their own goal.

Rodman had the game’s next big chance, taking Huster’s pass, muscling past Mace to get into the box, but her angled shot went just wide after getting past Franch in the 74th minute. From there, though, Washington’s game management took over, and even as KC brought attacking players like Mariana Larroquette and Addie McCain in and shifted into a 433, the Spirit kept them at bay, with the ball barely even getting into their penalty area.

The win takes the Spirit (7W-5D-7L, 26 points), back into 6th place after falling to 8th thanks to Gotham FC and Houston Dash wins elsewhere this weekend. Washington won’t have to wait that long for their next match, as they hit the road to face the North Carolina Courage this coming Friday, October 1.

Box Score

NWSL Regular Season - Game 19
Washington Spirit 2 (Sullivan 48+pen, McKeown 46)
Kansas City NWSL 1 (Jenkins 8)

Spirit (4231): Aubrey Bledsoe; Paige Nielsen, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar (Dorian Bailey 46); Saori Takarada (Tori Huster 46), Andi Sullivan (C); Anna Heilferty (Trinity Rodman 46), Ashley Sanchez (Karina Rodríguez 88), Kelley O’Hara; Kumi Yokoyama (Tara McKeown 46)

KC (4312): AD Franch; Kiki Pickett, Elizabeth Ball, Hailie Mace (Rachel Corsie 85), Mallory Weber; Victoria Pickett (Mariana Larroquette 85), Desiree Scott, Kristen Edmonds (C) (Addie McCain 63); Lo’eau LaBonta; Darian Jenkins (Jéssica Silva 63), Kristen Hamilton

Spirit - Sanchez 53, Rodman 84, Huster 90
KC - K. Pickett 47+, Hamilton 47+