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Washington Spirit, Orlando Pride battle to 0-0 draw in NWSL Challenge Cup opener

The Spirit had some strong phases of play, but couldn’t find a breakthrough in Florida

NWSL: Washington Spirit at Orlando Pride Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Spirit showed real menace at times, but couldn’t solve the Orlando Pride in a physical 0-0 stalemate to open the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup. Despite a dominant start to both halves, the Spirit couldn’t quite turn their chances into a goal, while the game had a surprisingly chippy edge given the early stages of the season.

The Spirit were favorites on paper, and behaved that way from the jump. Tara McKeown’s ball from the right was gloriously heel-flicked by Ashley Sanchez into Trinity Rodman’s path in the 4th minute, but the NWSL Rookie of the Year was denied by a fingertip save by Erin McLeod. Washington turned the resulting corner into another, where Sam Staab’s header went just barely wide at the back post.

Head coach Kris Ward said the Spirit were going to press opposing teams more often, and they generated numerous early turnovers with that tactic. A 14th minute instance gave McKeown the ball in a promising spot, but the time it took her to create a shooting angle gave McLeod enough time to get into position to make the save.

Staab somehow managed to get a shot away while falling two minutes later after yet another Spirit corner, but scooped Rodman’s pass over the bar from an awkward angle as Washington set up shop in Orlando’s half.

However, after about 25 minutes, the Spirit adjusted to more of a mid-block to conserve energy, and Orlando found some life. Most notably, Sydney Leroux sliced a 29th minute finish over the bar when well placed after the Pride created their first prolonged spell of attacking pressure. The Spirit regained some control, but Aubrey Kingsbury had to make her first save after Darian Jenkins floated a header on goal after Marta’s long service picked her out.

The second half began much like the first did: Kelley O’Hara’s long-range shot was tipped just wide by McLeod, and Staab headed the resulting corner just wide. Within a minute, O’Hara had a shot skew wide as more pressure created another turnover within 20 yards of the Pride goal.

Still, the goal didn’t arrive, and the Spirit had a worry in the 71st minute as Marta’s 30-yard free kick whistled just wide after a rare Pride foray forward became a set piece opportunity. However, from there a slew of substitutions combined with fatigue from both teams — predictable at this stage of the season — saw plenty of threats but few true chances for a long spell.

Orlando had the best looks late: a miscommunication between Emily Sonnett and substitute Camryn Biegalski gave Leroux a look, but her quick 85th minute attempt skipped harmlessly wide. In stoppage time, the rebound of a half-cleared free kick was fired over the bar by Marta. Washington, meanwhile, nearly stole the game with the last chance, as Ashley Hatch’s flick on a free kick was just inches out of reach for Gaby Vincent, making her Spirit debut, on the doorstep.

The Spirit will look to build on a road point when they come back to the DMV, as they host NJ/NY Gotham FC at Segra Field on Friday, March 25, with kickoff set for 7:30pm.

Box Score

NWSL Challenge Cup - East Group, Game 1
Orlando Pride 0
Washington Spirit 0

Pride (4231): Erin McLeod; Carrie Lawrence, Amy Turner, Megan Montefusco, Courtney Petersen; Angharad James (Parker Roberts 65), Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir (Kylie Strom 79); Marta (C), Mikayla Cluff (Meggie Dougherty Howard 62), Sydney Leroux; Darian Jenkins (Erica Tymrak 79)

Spirit (433): Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara (Camryn Biegalski 68), Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar (Anna Heilferty 68); Dorian Bailey, Andi Sullivan (C) (Gaby Vincent 61), Ashley Sanchez; Trinity Rodman (Tinaya Alexander 76), Ashley Hatch, Tara McKeown (Taylor Aylmer 76)

Pride - Lawrence 31, Marta 89, Strom 95+
Spirit - Heilferty 73, Biegalski 78, Aylmer 91+