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Washington Spirit showcase depth in 2-1 win over OL Reign

In a match between the NWSL’s two title favorites, a rotated Spirit posted a decisive win

NWSL: OL Reign at Washington Spirit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Spirit kicked off their championship defense in style, defeating OL Reign 2-1 in the NWSL regular season opener for both sides. With 10,177 in attendance at Audi Field, the Spirit got top-class goals from Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch in either half, while Aubrey Kingsbury saved a penalty kick for the second straight week.

Washington caused the initial problems, but the biggest early chance came at the other end. A ball over the top found Ally Watt isolated in space, and as she tried to move past Camryn Biegalski inside the box, the Spirit defender collided with her. Referee Alexandra Billeter had no choice but to point to the spot. Rose Lavelle took the 9th minute penalty, but Kingsbury repeated her heroics from last week in North Carolina, saving the spot kick.

The Spirit had an instant response, as Ashley Sanchez added to her tremendous start to 2022 with a 14th minute golazo. Washington high-pressed a Reign goal kick, eventually resulting in Biegalski winning a header well in the visitors’ end. Her header forward found Anna Heilferty, who deftly one-touched a backheel to Sanchez. Suddenly in a seam between the Reign midfield and defense, Sanchez fired a 24-yard bomb that flew past Phallon Tullis-Joyce before tucking just inside the post.

The Spirit were all over the visitors for the rest of the half. In order, Sanchez, Julia Roddar, Sam Staab, Rodman, and Rodman again were all denied by excellent work from Tullis-Joyce, who finished the half with nine saves.

The Reign were a different side for the first few minutes of the second half, testing Kingsbury on two crosses and having a goal called back for offside, after Veronica Latsko was flagged when making her layoff to Bethany Balcer just as the celebrations had begun.

The warning signs were there, and the Reign equalized in the 53rd minute. Watt rounded Biegalski on the Spirit left, getting to the endline before firing a low cross into the mixer. Kingsbury blocked the ball but couldn’t keep hold of it, with Lavelle on hand to push it over the line from four yards out.

Stung, Washington came back to life. Heilferty nearly fed Hatch for an instant reply, but Hatch’s snap header at the near post went just wide. Hatch then teed up a shot from 20 yards after good work from Rodman, only for Tullis-Joyce to dive right and make yet another save.

Substitute Bayley Feist and Hatch exchanged passes in the 60th minute, with Feist’s clever flick setting Sanchez up for another great look. Tullis-Joyce, at full stretch, somehow preserved the 1-1 scoreline.

Washington were knocking, and took the lead back in the 67th minute. Staab’s pass opened play up, finding Rodman in space on the right touchline. Rodman hung her cross up, essentially inviting someone to go win the header, and Hatch obliged, going on a hard sprint to get to the spot in time, beat Alana Cook in the air, and glance the ball over Tullis-Joyce and in.

Cook then had to do very well to intercept a through ball that looked to send Rodman in behind, and the Reign picked up the game’s first two yellow cards on tactical fouls to stop promising Washington breaks out of midfield. At the other end, substitutes Tziarra King and Olivia Athens provided a rare threat from the Reign, combining to serve a ball in for Lavelle that proved just out of reach for the USWNT star.

The Reign never really threatened again, leaving the Spirit to start their regular season campaign off on the right foot. The Spirit will play the Reign again in three days, and again at Audi Field. They’ll host the Challenge Cup semifinal between both sides on Buzzard Point Wednesday night, with kickoff set for 8:00pm.


Box Score

NWSL Regular Season - Game 1
Washington Spirit 2 (Sanchez 14, Hatch 67)
OL Reign 1 (Lavelle 53)

Lineups:
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Kingsbury (C); Morgan Goff (Kelley O’Hara 72), Amber Brooks (Emily Sonnett 59), Sam Staab, Camryn Biegalski; Taylor Aylmer, Julia Roddar (Dorian Bailey 59); Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty (Bayley Feist 59); Ashley Hatch (Audrey Harding 86)

Reign (4231): Phallon Tullis-Joyce; Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Phoebe McClernon, Jimena López; Nikki Stanton (Marley Canales 87), Jess Fishlock (C) (Quinn 69); Ally Watt (Olivia Athens 69), Rose Lavelle, Veronica Latsko (Tziarra King 76); Bethany Balcer (Angelina 76)

Bookings:
Spirit - Kingsbury 91+
Reign - Stanton 72, Cook 74, López 86