GERMANTOWN – Despite missing their two United States National Team players, the Washington Spirit continue their winning ways. This time, they defeated the Portland Thorns FC 3-1 in front of an audience of 3,049 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on May 18.
The victory was Washington’s second consecutive win, which improved their unbeaten streak to three games. The result increases their point total to 10, which is enough to move up to first place in the NWSL standings. It is also the first time the Spirit (3-1-1) won consecutive matches since going on a three-game winning streak during the 2016 season.
“We have said to the players, ‘This is your opportunity,’” Washington Head Coach Richie Burke said. “I’d be a little concerned if the spectrum of opportunity was a little broad, but we are tight. The training ground is a great place to be, and people are knocking on the door …I think there was a lot of positives to take from this.”
Starters Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh were called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team on May 12 and currently are preparing for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, Washington faced a physical Portland side, who had not lost a game this season.
The Spirit were aggressive offensively early, with midfielder Andi Sullivan and striker Ashley Hatch creating havoc on the wings with runs and dangerous crosses inside the penalty area.
After multiple attempts, the Spirit finally broke through when left back Amy Harrison slipped a pass between two defenders to find Hatch running toward Portland’s goal. The striker took a soft touch before releasing a low shot past a diving Britt Eckerstrom for Washington’s first goal.
“It can only be positive when you get your first goal of the season,” Hatch said. “… Amy (Harrison) gave me a perfect ball and made it easy so our practices are finally translating onto the field.”
With the Spirit using its wings to attack, the Thorns (2-1-2) responded with their own fast-break strategy on the left side with defender Megan Klingenberg. However, Portland would be thwarted by Washington’s defense before an attempt could be made on goal during the first half.
With two minutes remaining before halftime, a lightning delay was enacted as strikes flashed near the complex. After 20 minutes and quick warm-ups, play resumed and so did the Spirit’s offense. Sullivan almost scored her first goal of the season after collecting a defensive turnover and setting up a one-on-one opportunity on goal. However, Eckerstrom dove just in time to grab the ball before Sullivan could release her shot.
Two minutes after the intermission, midfielder Jordan DiBiasi fired a corner kick into the penalty area, which landed on fellow teammate Samantha Staab’s head. Instead of the ball going out of bounnds, it redirected off of Dagný Brynjarsdóttir and ricocheted into the net. The own goal gave Washington a two-goal cushion.
The Spirit were close in scoring a third goal moments later as they fired off three shots on target in a one-minute span.
First, striker Cheyna Matthews connected with a header-on goal, which was followed by two long-range efforts from outside the penalty area by defensive midfielder Meggie Dougherty-Howard. Eckerstrom’s diving saves on each shot kept Portland in the match.
The Thorns would get on the scoreboard in the 67th minute after striker Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic’s cross into the penalty area smacked teammate Caitlin Foord’s face and flew past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
However, it would not take long for Washington to respond. In the 71st minute, DiBiasi curled a right-footed corner kick directly into the net, beating an outreached Eckerstrom for the circus goal. The “Olimpico” goal was the rookie’s second goal of the season and solidified the win for the Spirit.
“I am kind of new to it,” DiBiasi said about taking corner kicks. “But Richie (Burke) told me to aim right at the (far) crossbar so that if you miss, it would go straight in. And it happened tonight, and I am pretty happy about it.”
Even though Washington is on their best start since the 2016 season, Burke still wanted his players to create more offensive opportunities on goal as possible. As the Spirit prepare to lose three more players for World Cup duty, the remaining players will need to take advantage of the extra playing time to score more goals and keep the positive momentum going, Burke said.
“I would have liked to score more goals in the run of play rather from restarts, but we will take what we can get right now,” Burke said. “We are a young team, and this is our fifth match. This is just the second time we have the same lineup coming out, so we haven’t had consistency in our players; but every single time, they have responded… There are things to work on, but we are not there yet.”