The Washington Spirit started slowly against NJ/NY Gotham FC today, but came to life after conceding an early goal on route to an authoritative 3-1 road win. Ashley Sanchez fired home a direct free kick midway through the first half, while Trinity Rodman scored before and after halftime to give the Spirit a second straight win in the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Gotham started brightly, pressing high and causing Washington some trouble. Nahomi Kawasumi’s 3rd minute shot, the product of a turnover on the left side, forced Aubrey Kingsbury into a save at full stretch. Within a minute, it was 1-0 to the home side, with Kawasumi scoring from virtually the same spot. Washington never truly escaped the resulting corner, and Gotham took two blocked shots before the veteran Japanese attacker — taking advantage of the fact that Kingsbury was screened by the traffic — calmly picked out the bottom corner from 19 yards.
Washington slowly worked themselves into the game, solving some pressure and offering some danger, but Sam Staab still had to produce a block on a dangerous chance for Margaret Purce in the 21st minute.
The Spirit would get level three minutes later in spectacular fashion. From a free kick roughly 24 yards out and right of center, Ashley Sanchez seemed to sense that Gotham wasn’t ready for the whistle, curling a shot over the wall and in, with Ashlyn Harris barely able to even turn her head in time to watch the ball hit the back of the net.
A scary collision between Kelley O’Hara and Imani Dorsey left both teams playing with 10 for a spell, and Purce nearly gave Gotham the lead with a powerful strike that clipped the woodwork as the game became end-to-end. Dorsey required a substitution, while O’Hara managed to return after being examined on the touchline.
However, the Spirit were warming up, and took a 2-1 lead in the 39th minute. Gotham had been playing direct, but opted to take a goal kick short, and Washington began a high press that paid immediate dividends. Amber Brooks won the ball, with Julia Roddar and Anna Heilferty combining to give O’Hara room to cross for Trinity Rodman, who confidently crushed a half-volley from the penalty spot past Harris.
The Spirit nearly padded their lead by going over the top, with Staab catching Gotham pushing high. The center back’s service sent Ashley Hatch in behind, but the USWNT forward skewed her left-footed shot just over the bar.
The Spirit got some added good news off the bench, with Emily Sonnett and Jordan Baggett able to enter the game in the 64th minute. For Sonnett, it was a return after missing two games with an abdominal injury, while for Baggett — who has been battling with a long-term hip injury that required surgery — the minutes were her first since June 6, 2021. Late in the game, Washington brought Bayley Feist in as well, bringing the versatile attacker in for her first action since tearing her ACL late in the 2021 preseason.
Rodman fired just wide moments after that change, while Caprice Dydasco had to produce a spectacular tackle to keep Sanchez from a huge chance after she was fed in behind the defense in the 72nd minute.
Gotham didn’t have a response, and the Spirit’s dynamic duo settled the match in the 75th minute. Sanchez exploded out of space on the left, where she moved after Baggett entered the fray, and drove a cross into the area that bent just out of reach for the defense. However, that just meant the ball was on a platter for Rodman, who side-footed home from the top of the six, tying her with Mal Pugh atop the Challenge Cup scoring table and giving Washington a 3-1 lead.
Baggett nearly marked her return to action with a late goal only for Harris to produce a top save, and then almost got an assist with a pass to Hatch that was just barely out of reach for the Spirit striker. Hatch also hit the post in the late stages, as Gotham seemed to have no answer to Washington’s passing patterns.
With the win, the Spirit maintain a chance to either win the East group and advance to the Challenge Cup semifinals that way, or to be the group runner-up with the most points and enter the knockout round that way. To win the group, they’ll have to beat the North Carolina Courage in Cary next Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 1pm.
NWSL Challenge Cup - East Group, Game 5
NJ/NY Gotham FC 1 (Kawasumi 4)
Washington Spirit 3 (Sanchez 24; Rodman 39, 75)
Gotham (433): Ashlyn Harris; Caprice Dydasco (Ellie Jean 75), Mandy Freeman, Estelle Johnson (Kelly Ann Livingstone 84), Imani Dorsey (Ali Krieger 34); Nahomi Kawasumi (Kumi Yokoyama 76), McCall Zerboni (C), Kristie Mewis; Margaret Purce, Cameron Tucker (Ifeoma Onumonu 46), Paige Monaghan
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Amber Brooks (Emily Sonnett 64), Sam Staab, Camryn Biegalski; Taylor Aylmer, Julia Roddar (Morgan Goff 86); Trinity Rodman (Tinaya Alexander 86), Ashley Sanchez (Bayley Feist 80), Anna Heilferty (Jordan Baggett 64); Ashley Hatch
Gotham - Dorsey 30
Spirit - Aylmer 53