Game Day CoverageHavana SolaunJim GabarraLindsay AgnewLine Sigvardsen JensenStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit picked up their first point of the season after they played the Orlando Pride to a 1-1 draw. The match was the first ever Pride match at the new Orlando City Stadium.

Line Sigvardsen Jensen opened up the scoring in the 60th minute off of a corner kick from Shelina Zadorsky. The original corner kick was punched away by Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, but the rebound fell to the head of Sigvardsen Jensen just past the penalty spot. The lofted header was the first NWSL goal in her career.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
The Spirit celebrate after Sigvardsen Jensen’s goal in the 60th minute.

 

The Pride would get the goal back in the 86th minute when rookie Danica Evans slipped through the Spirit defense and around goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the equalizer. After a solid game as a backline, the Spirit could not control a late game Pride attack.
Labbé had a lighter workload this week as she was forced to make only five saves. Her biggest play of the evening came when she closed out Brazilian midfielder Marta, who was making her NWSL debut. Labbé’s effort caused Brazilian to shoot the potential game-winner just wide of the net.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit
Starting XI: Labbé; Zadorsky, Church, Johnson; Kallman, Sigvardsen, Mewis, Huster, Kleiner; Solaun, Stengel

The Spirit offense created more chances against the Pride, registering six shots on goal. Much of the offensive improvement came from the play of Havana Solaun and rookie Lindsay Agnew. Solaun made her first start of the year and Agnew made her professional debut coming on in the 19th minute after forward Katie Stengel went down with an injury. Agnew’s substitution marked the third the third injury substitution head coach Jim Gabarra has been forced in a little over 119 minutes of play. Despite the injury bug, Gabarra was upbeat about the team’s effort.

“It was a better performance than our first match, so it’s a step in the right direction,” Gabarra said.

Washington will be back in action on Saturday, April 29 as they host the Houston Dash at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Dash are coming off of a 5-1 defeat on the road in Seattle. US national team goalkeeper Jane Campbell made her professional debut for the Dash in the loss. Kickoff for the April 29th matchup is set for 7 p.m.

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerCaprice DydascoChristine NairnCrystal DunnDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey WysTori Huster

The curse of DC sports teams continued Sunday evening as the Washington Spirit fell to the Western New York Flash on penalty kicks in the NWSL Championship game in Houston, Texas.

For the third time this season, the Spirit and Flash were set to clash, this time for the league crown. Both teams scored early in the first half, but no additional goals in regulation sent the game to extra time. A goal from Crystal Dunn just a minute into extra time looked like a sure winner. WNY would not go down without a fight however, and scored the equalizer in the fourth minute of added time in the second half of extra time. In penalty kicks, Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo stopped three of the Spirit’s five penalty kicks to lead the Flash to its first ever NWSL Championship.

All started well for the Spirit when defender Megan Oyster played a ball into the box just nine minutes into the match. D’Angelo came out to try and collect the ball, but missed allowing the ball to fall to Dunn. Dunn rounded the goalkeeper and deposited the ball into the net to open the scoring for the Spirit. The Flash would respond in the 14th minute with a goal from the top of the box from midfielder Samantha Mewis.

The Spirit were forced to make an early sub as defender Alyssa Kleiner replaced defender Caprice Dydasco. Dydasco went down in the 22nd minute with what is being listed as a left knee injury. With only three subs for the game, the move put the Spirit in a pinch. Kleiner came into the match and immediately made an impact, gaining praise from head coach Jim Gabarra during the post game press conference.

“Having to sub a flank player early on was not something we anticipated,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner did a great job in there on the flank, that’s why she’s here. It really tied our hands, especially looking at without a lead going into overtime and possibly facing penalties, Stengel is one of our top five for penalties.”

Just one minute into extra time, Dunn would grab her second goal of the game, putting the Spirit up 2-1. The Spirit had the championship trophy in its grasp with under a minute remaining in the match. In the fourth minute of added time in extra time, Flash forward and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams got on the end of a cross from Jessica McDonald. Williams out jumped two Spirit defenders to head the ball over Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

“I think as competitors, we always know the game situation, we’re up a goal, we’re down a goal, roughly how much time is left,” midfielder Christine Nairn said. “In that last play, I just remember it coming off of I think Jess McDonald’s foot and I jumped for all it was worth and there was a collision between me, Lynn Williams and Kleiner. Then the crowd went wild, so it happened all so fast.”

Headed to penalties, WNY seemed to have all of the momentum. Wys was able to stop one Flash attempt and force McDonald to hit one well over the crossbar. D’Angelo was equal to the task, stopping shots from the three original Spirit players in Ali Krieger, Tori Huster and Diana Matheson. The Flash would eventually win 3-2 (3-2 on PKs), securing its first ever NWSL Championship.

“We had been good at penalties and our two best penalty kick takers, they get saved,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kelsey was a little bit unfortunate not to get one, I mean two she gets her hand on. It’s a funny game, it’s a brutal way to decide games. It’s not a loss in my opinion, they advanced on penalties.”

Despite the game being in Houston, a large contingent of Spirit supporters, including members of the Spirit Squadron, made the trip down to cheer on their team, bringing energy to BBVA Compass Stadium.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without the Spirit Squadron,” Nairn said. “They surprised us by being out in that corner, and we hear that drum, them screaming. We walked over there and our hearts break just as much as theirs. They’re just as much a part of this team as we are. Like I said, we are here because of them. Thanks for them and everything they do. They do more for us than they know.”

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos)

Ali KriegerChristine NairnDiana MathesonFrancisca OrdegaGame Day CoverageKelsey WysShelina Zadorsky

For the first time in franchise history, the Washington Spirit will be playing for the NWSL championship.

The Spirit beat the visiting Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in overtime in front of 4,249 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday night. A goal from defender Ali Krieger opened the scoring for the Spirit, and with just under 10 minutes remaining in the overtime period, forward Francisca Ordega sealed the deal for Washington.

“We’ve wanted this for the past four seasons, and I think we deserved it all season,” Krieger said. “We’ve played so great. Obviously it was a team win, towards the end you could see that with the goals we scored, it was involving the entire team.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Church, Zadorsky, Dydasco; Nairn, Lohman, Huster; Banini, Ordega, Dunn

Washington controlled the play from the start, but as halftime drew closer, had nothing to show for it. A corner kick from Krieger was played away by Red Stars defender Julie Johnston, but the ball was played right to Spirit defender Shelina Zadorsky. Zadorsky played a ball back into the box with her left foot, finding Krieger’s head at the back post for the goal in the 36th minute.

“I saw time and space and I knew we had a lot of runners in the box,” Zadorsky said. “I had thought maybe swing it in with my right foot, but I’m a little more confident with my left, so I took a touch back and tried to curl it into a dangerous space. Then all the credit to Ali for an incredible goal.”

Chicago would get a goal back in the 80th minute to tie the game up. Defender Casey Short played a ball over the Spirit backline and right onto the foot of on running forward Christen Press. The drama continued in stoppage time as Press beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, but hit the crossbar, sending the game into extra time.

“I was just hoping that my teammates, my center backs and everyone else were covering for me as they should,” Wys said. “I did what I could to put her off and then the soccer gods were with us, that was what I was thinking as soon as that hit the post. I was like they are with us tonight.”

Both teams traded chances in the opening half of extra time, but it wouldn’t be until the 111th minute that either team was able to break through. Combination play between midfielders Christine Nairn and Diana Matheson set up the Spirit in the box. Nairn sent the ball across the face of goal to a streaking Ordega at the back post. Ordega was able to just get a piece of it, directing it past Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

“I think I was just right there at the right time because when I saw how good the ball was like, ok let me just go in case the ball bounce back,” Ordega said. “I wasn’t expecting the ball at that spot, but it came out to be a successful goal.”

Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.
Ordega scores the game winning goal past Naeher.

In its first ever home playoff game, the Spirit qualified to play in its first NWSL Final. After finishing in last place in year one, four years later, the Spirit will play either the Portland Thorns or WNY Flash for the league crown.

“It’s super rewarding because I remember that first season where we didn’t have the best opportunities and maybe we didn’t have the best season at all,” Krieger said. “Working off of that, building a team, building this core group that we’ve had, it’s a really incredible feeling to come that far and to see this team grow into what it is now. I’m just really proud of where we’ve come and now where we are headed. This game’s over now, we have to focus on the final.”

The Spirit will find out on Sunday which team it will face in the Final. The NWSL Championship will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. ET.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Crystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKelsey Wys

For the second straight weekend, the Washington Spirit failed to lock up the NWSL Shield, now clearing the way for the Portland Thorns to claim the best regular season record with just a point vs. Sky Blue on Sunday.  The Spirit defensive corps struggled throughout the game, giving up three goals to the host Chicago Red Stars. While Crystal Dunn got one back, it wouldn’t be enough for the Spirit as they dropped their second straight road contest 3-1.

Just six minutes into the game, Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo played a through ball into forward Christen Press on the right side. Press picked up the ball, beat Spirit defender Estelle Johnson and rocketed a left footed shot to the back post past goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.

In the 26th minute, Chicago found the back of the net again. Despite being surrounded by three Spirit defenders, Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta was able to find forward Cara Walls. Walls played a lot shot into the left side of the net past Wys to give Chicago the 2-0 lead.

The opening minutes of the second half were action packed. Less than a minute, Huerta picked up a loose ball at around midfield and took off down the right side. As a few Spirit defenders backed off in anticipation of the cross, Huerta decided to take the sharp angled shot and was able to sneak the ball in at the back post, putting the Spirit in a deep hole.

Right off of the ensuing kickoff, Dunn got one goal back for Washington. Dunn’s low blast seemed to catch Red Stars goalkeeper Michele Dalton off guard as the shot dribbled right past Dalton’s outstretched arms. That however, would be all the Red Stars defense would give up in the final game of the regular season for both squads.

On a positive note for the Spirit, forward Estefania Banini made her return from injury in the 81st minute. The Argentine international had knee surgery on Aug. 24, 2016 and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Banini’s return will bring some much needed scoring depth back to the lineup just in time for the playoffs.

Washington will return home for a semifinal match on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. The match will be the first home playoff game in franchise history. While the seeding is still unknown, the playoff field is set. The Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and Western New York Flash will all accompany the Spirit in the four-team playoffs. Match-ups for the semifinals will be announced following the conclusion of tonight’s Portland vs. Sky Blue game.

UPDATE: With a 3-1 victory on Sunday night, the Portland Thorns won the 2016 NWSL Shield. The Thorns will host the WNY Flash on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Spirit will play the Red Stars on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Ali KriegerAlyssa KleinerDiana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Memorial Stadium in Seattle has never been kind to the Washington Spirit. In six games there in three years, the Spirit have yet to register a win. Saturday’s game vs. the Seattle Reign didn’t change that narrative. The Spirit fell behind early in the game and found no improvement in the second half. The opportunity for the Spirit to clinch the NWSL Shield will have to wait another day as the Reign defeated the Spirit 2-0 to keep Seattle’s slim playoff hopes alive.

Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute with a goal from forward Beverly Yanez. Forward Megan Rapinoe drove down the left side, beating Spirit defender Ali Krieger, to drive in a cross. Yanez was able to slip past the Spirit defense and tap in the cross to give the home team the much needed lead.

The Reign would double its lead in the 78th minute when midfielder Keelin Winters rocketed home a shot past an outstretched Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. The goal was an extra special one for the Reign captain as she was playing in her final home game after announcing she would retire at the end of the season.

Winters (right) played in her final home game on Saturday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.
Winters (right) played in her final home game on Sunday night. After soccer, Winters plans on joining the Kirkland Fire Department.

Washington had chances of its own in both halves, but stellar team defending from the Reign shutout the Spirit for just the third time this season. The best chance for the Spirit in the first half came in the 41st minute. After midfielder Joanna Lohman took the initial shot, all chaos broke out as multiple Spirit players attempted to put the ball in the back of the net. But the Reign defense would have none of it. A shot from defender Estelle Johnson in the 89th minute also pinballed around the box, but again, no goal for the Spirit.

Krieger was the only one of the Spirit’s five Olympians that started the game. Midfielder Diana Matheson would enter as a second half sub, coming on in the 76th minute for Lohman. Trying to get minutes for everyone heading into the playoffs, head coach Jim Gabarra put together yet another combination on the front line. Along with Katie Stengel and Franny Ordega, Alyssa Kleiner got her first start of the season at forward after briefly seeing time there as a sub. This was the 16th different combination Gabarra has put out at forward in 19 games this season.

Washington will hit the road one more time, heading to Chicago to wrap up regular season action against the playoff-bound Red Stars. The game will be played on Sep. 24, 2016 at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. on the east coast). The NWSL will be off this next upcoming week as the USWNT hosts Thailand on Sep. 15, 2016 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2) and the Netherlands on Sep. 18, 2016 (7 p.m. ET on FS1).

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Cali FarquharsonCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKelsey Wys

Wednesday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Seattle Reign had it all. Between numerous weather delays, a pre game controversy, two penalty kicks, three goals,  and a chance to clinch home field advantage for the semi finals, the Maryland SoccerPlex was a busy place to be for a midweek clash in the NWSL.

Foul weather moved into the area just prior to kickoff which pushed kickoff back nearly one hour. The delay sent the teams back into the locker room, while the national anthem was played in the stadium. The move was one done intentionally by the Spirit organization, specifically owner Bill Lynch, in response to recent protests during the national anthem by athletes, Megan Rapinoe in particular.

“We respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal – albeit worthy – cause,” the Spirit said in a statement prior to Wednesday’s kickoff.

Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson
Starting XI: Wys; Dydasco, Zadorsky, Johnson, Kleiner; Nairn ©, Sigvardsen, Matheson; Williams, Ordega, Farquharson

While much of the attention surrounding the game went to the incident with the anthem, overlooked was the fact that with the 2-1 win over the Reign, the Spirit clinched the first home playoff game for the franchise. A penalty kick from midfielder Kim Little made the game close, but goals from forwards Crystal Dunn and Cheyna Williams were too much for the Reign to overcome.

Dunn started the game on the bench, but just six minutes into the game, the US national team star was forced into action. Forward Cali Farquharson was injured after colliding with a Reign player and was carried off the field by the stretcher. Farquharson returned to the field on crutches and a brace on her left knee after the game.

Williams drew a penalty kick for the Spirit in the 41st minute, but midfielder Christine Nairn would put the kick wide of the right post. Nairn would redeem herself late in first half stoppage time as she played a free kick quickly to Dunn down the right side of the field. Dunn cut back towards the center of the field before ripping a shot towards the back post, placing it in the upper corner past Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer’s outstretched arms.

“She really turned the corner tonight,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “I thought she was playing one, two touch, she was moving and then when she had the chance to take someone one v one, and then just a spectacular shot.”

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Dunn once again had an impact, setting up Williams for the second goal of the game. As Dunn neared the end line, she played a ball into the six yard box of Seattle. Kopmeyer was able to get a hand on it, but a crashing Williams deposited the rebound for her third goal of the season.

“Up front, we have the unfortunate injury to Cali and then to have Crystal and Cheyna and [Ordega] on the same field up front really prevented them from holding a high line like they tried to hold in the first half,” Gabarra said. “We put them under a lot of pressure and kind of kept them honest and they couldn’t throw everything at us as much as they would like.”

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Kim Little would get one back for the away team in the 70th minute on a penalty kick past Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys. Seattle was awarded the penalty after a handball in the box by Nairn. The defense for the Spirit stood tall all game to assure the potent attack of the Reign remained under control.

“It was a very good team performance and especially rewarding for me to start seven different players and have a player like Line step out there and not having played in the league and play 90 minutes against the best midfield in the league and hold their own,” Gabarra said. “I thought Kleiner was great at right back, Caprice, that was probably her best game of the season and Shelina Zadorsky stepping in and kind of leading the back line was just awesome.”

The Spirit will hit the road for the final two regular season games of the year. First up is a trip to Seattle for a Sunday rematch with the Reign. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. (10 p.m. on the east coast.) The final game of the regular will be Sep. 24, 2016 in Chicago vs. the Red Stars.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Diana MathesonGame Day CoverageJim GabarraKatie StengelKelsey WysShelina ZadorskyStephanie Labbe

The Washington Spirit returned to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday night in search of a point to secure a spot in the 2016 NWSL Playoffs. Western New York came to town to try and better its spot in the standings in the race to the playoffs. Goals from Spirit forward Katie Stengel and Flash midfielder Sam Mewis would assure both teams would walk away with a point.

“[WNY is] a very athletic team and very good in the air,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “Huge challenge and I think that’s what you’ve got to expect coming down the stretch here when you’re at the top, everyone’s going to come after you with all they have. I thought they put us under a lot of pressure and we really had a hard time getting a hold of the tempo of the game in the first 25 minutes.”

Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn
Starting XI: Wys; Krieger ©, Oyster, Johnson, Dydasco; Huster, Nairn, Lohman; Williams, Stengel, Dunn

Both teams exchanged chances, but neither was able to find the back of the net in the first half. Flash forward Lynn Williams had the best chance of the first half when a cross landed at her feet in the 37th minute. A quick save from Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys kept the game scoreless headed into the half.

Just under 15 minutes into the second half, Stengel would break open the scoring with a goal past Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. After being denied by D’Angelo twice in the previous few minutes, Stengel assured she would not be stopped again. Stengel beat D’Angelo in a foot race, jumped over the diving keeper to slot home the go-ahead goal. The goal was the forward’s fourth of the season.

The lead would not last long though. After multiple failed clearing attempts from the Spirit defense, Mewis would pounce on a loose ball at the top of the box and send it skipping past Wys. Despite switching to five defenders in the back in the 79th minute, the Flash would tie it up in the 86th minute to steal a point on the road.

“We had to fight for that point,” Stengel said. “Anytime a late goal is scored, it’s disappointing. We thought we would come away with three points, but they were putting a lot of pressure on us.”

Saturday marked the return of the Canadian Olympians to the Spirit squad. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, midfielder Diana Matheson and defender Shelina Zadorsky were all honored prior to kick-off. While the three did not make it back into the starting XI, both Matheson and Zadorsky did enter the match as second half subs.

“We have a deep squad, so when people leave for national team duty, we still have a fantastic starting eleven and bench,” Matheson said. “People are working hard to get starting spots, and if you’re not getting them, you’re supporting everyone else out there. It’s just a good, positive group.”

The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday's game.
The Canadian olympians were honored by the Spirit and Canadian Embassy prior to Saturday’s game.

While Labbé returned to the game day roster, Gabarra stuck with Wys in goal. Wys, who has started eight of the Spirit’s 17 games this season, made 12 saves to keep the potent Flash attack at bay. Now with two highly talented goalkeepers on the roster, Gabarra is left with a tough decision on game day when choosing a starting goalkeeper.

“It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem. It’s a headache,” Gabarra said. “It’s great to have Steph there and I’m sure there will be some competition over the next week, but as of right now, Kelsey has got the starting position and it’s up to Steph to beat her out.”

The Spirit return to the SoccerPlex on Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2016 to face the Seattle Reign for the first time this season. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. While the Spirit have secured a playoff spot, continuing to gather points will be important in the chase for the NWSL shield for best record in the league.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnCrystal DunnEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageKatie Stengel

Cheyna Williams

Friday night’s matchup between the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride was an opportunity for the Spirit to increase its lead on the rest of the league and get closer to securing a playoff spot. The Spirit traveled to Orlando to face the Pride in the first official game back from the Olympic break. Goals from forward Cheyna Williams and midfielder Christine Nairn would be enough for the Spirit to hold off the Pride for a 2-1 road win.

For most of the opening fifteen minutes, the visitors controlled the play, earning two early corner kicks. It wouldn’t be until the 37th minute that the persistence of the Spirit would pay off. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams was able to shake Orlando defender Kaylyn Kyle to get off a left footed shot above goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

The Spirit would double its lead in the 57th minute off of a goal from Nairn. After dribbling into the box, forward Katie Stengel spun out of pressure to find a streaking Nairn wide open on the left side. Nairn took a setup touch before placing a low, hard shot back towards the right post past a visibly upset Harris. The goal was Nairn’s third in two games.

Orlando would not go down without a fight and managed to get a goal back in the 71st minute. Forward Sarah Hagen, who was a second half sub for Orlando head coach Tom Sermani, would get on the end of a ball in from Cami Levin to redirect it past Kelsey Wys. The goal from the Pride marked only the 14th goal given up by the Spirit in 16 games played. The Spirit now have a goal differential of +12, good for the best mark in the league.

The Spirit would clinch a playoff spot on Saturday if Reign FC lose or draw vs. Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC lose vs. Red Stars.

Forward Crystal Dunn made her return to the lineup after playing for the USWNT in the Rio Olympics. Dunn’s return came at the perfect time for the Spirit as Estefania Banini underwent knee surgery this past week. Banini is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

NWSL action will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, Sep. 3, 2016. The Spirit will play host to the WNY Flash. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Ali KriegerCheyna WilliamsChristine NairnGame Day Coverage

More than two months after the original game was set to be played, the Houston Dash and Washington Spirit faced off on Thursday night for the second time this season. Two goals courtesy of Christine Nairn helped the Spirit walk away with the 2-1 victory and sole possession of first place in the NWSL.

Nairn would open the scoring in the 30th minute on a penalty kick for her first goal of the 2016 season. The penalty kick was awarded after Houston defender Cari Roccaro took down Spirit forward Cheyna Williams in the box. Nairn returned to the field to take the kick after being briefly sidelined due to an injury. The injury to Nairn’s shoulder occurred just minutes earlier when she was tangled up with Dash defender Ellie Brush. Although appearing to favor the shoulder, the injury did not prevent Nairn from completing the match.

Early in the second half, Nairn would double the lead, and her season goal total, in the 63rd minute. The midfielder picked up a ball near the center circle and quickly hit a chip shot over Dash goalkeeper Bianca Henninger, who was caught off her line.

In the 90th minute, Houston captain Kealia Ohai put home a cross from Stephanie Ochs, dashing the Spirit’s hope of walking away with its eighth shutout of the season. The goal would come too late for the Dash as they fell for the eighth time this season.

The Spirit buoyed by the return of captain Ali Krieger. Despite arriving from the Rio Olympics just days prior, Krieger was in the starting XI for the Spirit on Thursday night. Crystal Dunn was not available for the match, while the Canadian internationals, goalkeeper Steph Labbé, defender Shelina Zadorsky and midfielder Diana Matheson, will return from the Rio Olympics with the bronze medal. On another roster note, Megan Oyster ended her 34 games played streak. Oyster had started, in every game since being drafted in 2015.

The next match for the Spirit will be on Friday, August 26th, 2016 in Orlando. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. This game will be the second meeting between the two clubs, with the Spirit being victorious in the previous meeting. The Spirit will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 to face the WNY Flash in the second-to-last home game of the season.

photo by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos

Caprice DydascoCheyna WilliamsEstefania BaniniGame Day CoverageJim GabarraJoanna Lohman

All that stood between the Spirit and the Olympic break was a re-match with Sky Blue on Saturday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Mother Nature had other plans however, with a severe thunderstorm rolling into Maryland on Saturday evening around game time. The storm was too much to handle, forcing the game to be rescheduled for Sunday morning. In the final installment of the four game series, the Spirit grabbed the 3-1 win behind goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Cheyna Williams and defender Alyssa Kleiner.

Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams
Starting XI: Wys; Church, Johnson, Oyster, Dydasco; Nairn ©, Huster, Lohman; Banini, Stengel, Williams

Banini’s goal, her fifth of the year, gave the Spirit an early 1-0 lead in the 29th minute. The Argentinian received a pass from Joanna Lohman at the top of the box and blasted a shot past Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey. Just six minutes later, Sky Blue forward Tasha Kai was on the receiving end of a fortunate bounce and beat Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys to even the score.

i-XrzjbGJ-X2Williams would assure the Spirit went into the locker room with the 2-1 lead. Defender Caprice Dydasco played a ball into the box where Williams would collect, split two Sky Blue defenders and tuck home a shot past Casey. The goal was Williams’ first professional goal.

“It felt really good and when my team embraced me, that was the best part,” Williams said. “I think we responded well. We know that they capitalize on their opportunities and we wanted to make sure we switched on at all times. So I feel like the goal was a wakeup call for us and I think we responded really well.”

i-hXtWK3K-X2This was the first time the Spirit scored two goals in the first half since June 18, 2016 against Orlando. After calling last week’s first half “atrocious”, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra felt this week’s was the best half his team had played all season.

“I think it was probably our best half of the season, at least as far as playing the way we want to play in setting our press,” Gabarra said. “Outside of not scoring the chances we created on corner kicks and other chances where we felt like we could have been up 3-0 before we scored our first goal. I thought it was much better, the energy was good. We were playing the way we’ve asked them to play.”

Williams would not be the only player to score her first professional goal. After Kleiner was subbed on in the 89th minute, it didn’t take long for her presence to be felt. Just moments into extra time, Kleiner collected the ball at the top of the 18 yard box and crushed a shot with her left foot into the back of the net to secure the victory for the Spirit.

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The NWSL will now go on break for the Olympic games. The first game back will be on August 18, 2016 in Houston between the Spirit and the Dash. This game is a makeup game from May 27, 2016. Kickoff for the matchup is 7 p.m. in Houston (8 p.m. on the east coast).

photos by Kelley Piper (@kpiperphotos