The Washington Spirit had to dig deep to secure a 2-2 draw with the North Carolina Courage at Audi Field. Just hours after the team announced that that Michele Kang is officially the club’s majority owner, a tale of two halves played out at Audi Field. The Spirit coughed up two first half goals to Debinha and Taylor Smith, but came roaring back in the second half. Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch both scored on similar plays, and Washington nearly found a third before splitting the points with the Courage.
Washington didn’t start the game well, and after most of the game played out in the Spirit’s defensive third, the Courage took a 5th minute lead. Washington built out of the back, but eventually Merritt Mathias gained position on Anna Heilferty, forcing a turnover. Malia Berkely took possession and moved up the right wing, crossing low into the goalmouth, where Karina Rodríguez could only push the ball into the path of Debinha, who duly placed the ball in the bottom corner from seven yards.
The Spirit woke up in the moments that followed, with a shot and several crosses being blocked. Most significantly, Kelley O’Hara sent a left-footed curler into Katelyn Rowland’s hands after North Carolina couldn’t clear.
However, that pressure didn’t pay off, and NC added to their lead in the 26th minute. The Spirit had caught the Courage offside several times, but as Carson Pickett moved across midfield, she saw Taylor Smith well onside and with a huge channel to run. Pickett obliged, and Smith walked in all alone, finishing low past Kingsbury. The goal marked the first time in 13 competitive matches that the Spirit had conceded more than one goal in a game, a run dating back to Kris Ward’s first game after being named interim head coach last August.
The Spirit needed some time to gather themselves, but eventually did create a well-worked attack that saw Gaby Vincent escape three players to set up Ashley Sanchez, only for the young USWNT hopeful to scoop her shot over the bar.
Washington nearly pulled one back seconds into the second half, with Sanchez’s shot only being parried by Rowland. Ashley Hatch lurked, but just as she arrived to steer the ball into an empty net, Abby Erceg poked the ball behind for a corner.
The Spirit seemed to have woken up, and Trinity Rodman pulled them within one in the 58th minute. Andi Sullivan pulled out wide into a seam, and with no Courage player closing her down, delivered a deep cross towards Washington targets. Hatch couldn’t win the header, but did enough to prevent a Courage clearance, and Rodman crushed a half-volley over Rowland and into the roof of the net.
Adding a goal to a far better second half, the Spirit were clearly energized by the goal, and drew level through Hatch. The blueprint was similar, as possession eventually found its way to a Spirit player — this time Julia Roddar — for a deep cross as the Courage weren’t in position to defend. Unlike the first goal, though, Hatch won the battle for the ball outright, thumping a header past Rowland in the 67th minute.
Sanchez nearly made it 3-2 just two minutes later, only for Rowland to tip her shot over the bar, and the resulting corner produced some chaos in the goalmouth before NC escaped. Then, following a free kick she won, Sanchez went even closer, fooling some fans into thinking she’d scored after a sneaky set piece saw Sullivan pick her out with a pass.
Washington was throwing the kitchen sink forward in pursuit of a winner, with center back Sam Staab at one point spending a spell inside the Courage box during open play. However, despite several threats, Washington never quite found the one last window they needed, settling for a third straight draw to start the Challenge Cup.
Washington will complete a run of three home games in a nine-day span this coming Sunday, when they host the Orlando Pride at Audi Field. Kickoff is set for 4:00pm.
NWSL Challenge Cup - East Group, Game 3
Washington Spirit 2 (Rodman 58, Hatch 67)
North Carolina Courage 2 (Debinha 5, Smith 26)
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Karina Rodríguez, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar (Camryn Biegalski 83); Andi Sullivan (C), Gaby Vincent (Taylor Aylmer 46); Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Hatch
Courage (4222): Katelyn Rowland; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg (C), Carson Pickett; Malia Berkely (Meredith Speck 75), Denise O’Sullivan; Debinha, Kiki Pickett (Brianna Pinto 53); Taylor Smith, Jorian Baucom (Jaelene Daniels 53)
Spirit - Staab 14, Sullivan 64
Courage - K. Pickett 47+, Berkely 59, Kurtz 76