BOYDS – National Women’s Soccer League leaders Washington Spirit battled Portland Thorns FC to a 0-0 draw in front a packed Soccerplex Saturday in a defensive struggle featuring five yellow cards.
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The Thorns had an opportunity when they found Spirit defender Megan Oyster one on one with Tobin Heath.
Oyster snagged Heath’s jersey long enough to pull Heath off balance, then she let go, earning a yellow card.
Heath hit the ground in a dramatic fashion; arms spread wide with palms up as she slid sitting upright across the pitch with her knees leading the way.
However, Spirit keeper Stephanie Labbé deflected Heath’s ensuing free kick in the 17th minute.
Not 10 minutes later, another yellow card came out from a dangerous slide tackle by Thorns defender Emily Sonnett as she went to win the ball away from Washington’s Crystal Dunn.
Midfielder Diana Matheson took the free kick which Ali Krieger headed toward the goal but deflected out of bounds off a Thorns’ defender, setting up a corner kick.
Matheson booted the ball in front of Krieger, who again headed it but it sailed out of bounds.
Dunn later fielded a cross pass from Krieger and knocked through a slot into the net by Portland goalie Adrianna Franch.
Instant elation about a goal became instant disappointment as the referee called Dunn offside, no goal. That was not to be Franch’s only encounter with Dunn and the ball that evening.
After halftime, Portland displayed a new attack, finding open pockets in the Spirit defense, putting the home team on its heels.
Heath then picked up her first yellow card, the third of the game, for rushing a free kick by Krieger, violating the 10 yard rule.
The physical encounters between Oyster and Heath continued during the second half as Heath found midfield openings, drawing Oyster out to close in on her flanked by Shelina Zadorsky.
Heath’s intensity when focused on the goal was matched by Oyster’s intensity to get the ball away from Heath and back into Thorns territory.
The crowd was impressed by Oyster’s competitive ambitions. She was one of several reasons why Heath was unable to score.
Spirit midfielder Tori Huster rocked the midfield throughout the game.
Her ability to win the ball away from others, head the ball from any height to the right people was on target for this match. Portland’s midfielder outsized Huster and Matheson but the smaller Spirit players hung tough.
Washington head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra said the Thorns said seeing his team compete so well with the Thorns midfield, which he described as the best in the league, makes him confident Washington can successfully contend with any team’s midfield.
Rookie Spirit forward Cali Farquharson played against Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg and midfielders Allie Long and Lindsay Horan like Oyster would have in her first year.
At the 87th minute, Heath fouled Oyster with a push off that put Oyster on the ground feet up, head down. An immediate whistle from the referee led to Heath picking up the ball and spiking it into the ground.
The referee gave Heath her second yellow card, resulting in an automatic red card and immediate ejection from the game.
That put the Thorns one woman down on the pitch for the remainder of regulation and stoppage time.
Gabarra, sensing an opportunity, substituted in forward Christine Nairn into the game.
Nairn is known for her successful long ball shots on goal and she quickly placed two shots on goal, though the Portland goalie blocked one and another sailed wide right.
During the stoppage time play, Horan earned the fifth yellow card of the night by fouling Nairn.
For having played only seven minutes of the game, Nairn had a noticeable impact on the outcome, placing shots on goal and winning back balls with fresh legs.
Based on the NWSL rankings, the team line up looks like this as of Monday this week.
Rank # NWSL GP W L T PTS
1. Washington Spirit 4 3 0 1 10
2. Chicago Red Stars 4 3 1 0 9
3. Portland Thorns FC 4 2 0 2 8
4. Houston Dash 4 2 1 1 7
5. Orlando Pride 4 2 2 0 6
6. Seattle Reign FC 4 2 2 0 6
7. Western New York Flash 4 2 2 0 6
8. Sky Blue FC 4 1 2 1 4
9. FC Kansas City 4 0 3 1 1
10. Boston Breakers 4 0 4 0 0