With both sides subjected to sweltering weather conditions all afternoon, the Washington Spirit Reserves managed to narrowly slide by the New Jersey Wildcats, 2-1, on Saturday at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, N.J. Following a Wildcat equalizer in the 83rd minute, Spirit Reserves substitute Jessica Van Dyke countered two minutes later to decide the exhaustive match in dramatic fashion.
Coupled with Long Island’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Virginia Beach, the win locks up the Spirit Reserves’ spot in the postseason. In additional to qualifying for the playoffs, Washington can still win the Northeastern Division title and claim the right to host a first round match if they win both of their remaining regular season games.
With brutal temperatures in the upper nineties and stagnant air flow on the pitch, Washington and New Jersey battled the oppressive conditions as much as each other. In the opening moments, the home side appeared to have the upper hand, relentlessly attacking the Spirit Reserves defense and testing keeper DiDi Haracic.
Washington soon regained their composure and demonstrated better ball control, but were unable to break through the New Jersey defense and the half ended scoreless.
The second half showed a bit more offensive flair from the visiting Spirit Reserves, but they remained held in check by the threat of the dangerous New Jersey counterattacks. Washington nearly got on the scoreboard in the 47th minute on a high effort by midfielder Alex Doll, but the shot clanked off the crossbar and out of play.
The determination of the Washington offense paid off in the 53rd minute when midfielder Amber Stobbs earned her ninth assist of the season on a low feed from the left to forward Ashley Herndon. Herndon wasted no time in rifling the cross untouched into the left side of the Wildcat net for the 1-0 advantage.
New Jersey stormed back to draw the match even in the 83rd. The Wildcats rapidly turned a goal kick into a counterattack down the right side, blowing through the Spirit Reserves midfield and defense. The New Jersey right wing broke free on the right side of the box and fired deep from nearly 25 yards. Her shot sailed into the upper corner of the opposite side of the Washington goal for the 1-1 equalizer.
Proving themselves capable of a quick counterattack, the Spirit Reserves cut the New Jersey celebration short two minutes later when midfielder Hayley Siegel split the Wildcat defense and left teammate Van Dyke free to break in on goal from midfield. Enjoying a two-yard advantage over the racing New Jersey defense, Van Dyke cruised in on frame before firing high over the Wildcat keeper for the game winner in the 85 minute.
The win marks the first under new head coach J.P. Sousa, who takes the reins following the promotion of Mark Parsons to the professional Washington Spirit squad.
The Spirit Reserves return to Maryland this Wednesday to host the Fredericksburg Impact in their final home game. Match time is set for 4:30 p.m. at the Maryland SoccerPlex and is the first in a special doubleheader. The Washington Spirit professional side face the Chicago Red Stars at 7:30.