written by Elan-Paolo DeCarlo
Playing their third match in a week, the Washington Spirit took on the Portland Thorns in a pivotal late season game at the Maryland SportsPlex. The teams had to endure a lengthy weather delay to start the action, but what followed was a hotly contested game between two squads looking to make the playoffs.
Spirit head coach Mark Parsons sent out a different lineup to start the match than what he started in the last game against Sky Blue FC. Diana Matheson, Nikki Cross and Crystal Dunn started in place of Kerstin Garefrekes, Yael Averbuch and Robyn Gayle. With the so many games in a short amount of time, getting fresh legs on the field was necessary for the Spirit.
The Thorns revved up the action going early. In the 7th minute, a beautifully placed long ball over the top by Stephanie Catley found Thorns star Alex Morgan near the top of the box. Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris came out to challenge the play, but Morgan was able to control the ball and flick it over Harris and into the back of the net to give Portland an early 1-0 advantage. Morgan has five goals on the season.
The Spirit were able to generate chances all throughout the half. Around the 20-minute mark, Alex Singer went on a run from her own left back position, laid a pass off to Christine Nairn, who wasn’t anticipating the pass. Instead of a turnover, Singer sprinted after the ball, catching up with her own pass on the left side of the box. She put moves on to get free and delivered a pass to Jodie Taylor inside the box, who touched it over to Nairn. Nairn then ripped a shot wide of the net.
In the 27th minute, the Spirit earned perhaps their best chance of the half. Diana Matheson received a pass in the final third, working her way into the box. She was forced toward the goal line and her shot went wide to the near post, burying into the side netting.
For a while, the Spirit’s attacks weren’t paying off with results. Thorns keeper Nadine Angerer was solid cutting off crosses and stifling attacks throughout the match. However, in the 68th minute, the Spirit found the equalizer. Diana Matheson controlled the ball around midfield and played a perfect pass down the seam to a striding Jodie Taylor. Taylor got behind the defense, controlling the ball deep into the 18-yard box towards the Thorns goal line. Running out of field and the defense closing around her, Taylor ripped a shot to score a truly remarkable goal. Her 11th goal of the season was enough to bring the score to 1-1.
The Spirit would go on to generate more chances to try to come away with a victory, but their efforts fell short. In the 80th minute, after coming on as a sub, Kerstin Garefrekas found herself alone at the top of the box with a chance to give the Spirit a late lead, but her shot went wide.
This late in the season, against another team competing for a playoff spot, a tie is a productive outing. Getting one point gives the Spirit some breathing room. Sitting at 8-8-4 with four games left on the season, the Spirit are in a prime position to make the playoffs. The Spirit play 3 of the final 4 regular season games at home at the Maryland SoccerPlex.