Game Day CoverageMallory Pughmegan crossonsam staab

The 2019 NWSL season kicked off on Saturday night as the Washington Spirit played host to Sky Blue FC at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

The Washington Spirit opened up play at home on Saturday afternoon as they welcomed Sky Blue to the Maryland SoccerPlex. After a scoreless first half, the Spirit put away two goals to pick up their first win of the season. Rookie Sam Staab scored the opener in the 59th minute and Megan Crosson picked up her first goal for Washington in stoppage time. Aubrey Bledsoe got the shutout in goal to lead the Spirit to a 2-0 win.

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit Starting XI: Bledsoe; McGrady, Staab, Nielsen, Huster; DiBiasi, Sullivan, Dougherty-Howard; Matthews, Hatch, Pugh

Defense stands strong in opener

The backline for the Spirit consisted of two rookies and two others who had played next to no time on defense. Sam Staab and Tegan McGrady made their Spirit debuts on Saturday night after being drafted by Washington in January’s draft. Paige Nielsen, who has said she feels most comfortable at center back, played forward for most of her professional career before coming to D.C. this offseason.Then there is Tori Huster who has played in the Spirit midfield for years now but excelled at right back on Saturday night.

“I think we are doing really well,” Staab said after the game. “[McGrady] and I have actually known each other for a while but the rest of us it was just like a new season. We talk really well, communicate across the line and mesh really great during the game and just talk a lot. It feels great so far and it’s only the first game so just keep going up from there.

While this group does not have a lot of experience together, they looked put together and managed a shutout in the first game of the season. Sure, they were playing Sky Blue but they still did shutdown the attack for the visitors. Aubrey Bledsoe also did her part in goal, picking up two saves while also defending well on a six corner kick opportunities for Sky Blue. The Spirit will really be put to the test when they travel to Utah next week.

Mal Pugh impresses in season debut

Unlike most players in the NWSL, Mallory Pugh has the advantage of already playing in a number of games this season with the USWNT. She seemed to be in good form and it showed on Saturday. Her and Cheyna Matthews combined on a number of plays in the first half and were just a step away from having the opening goal of the season.

Late in the second half, Pugh drove towards the endline before crossing it in to Megan Crosson for the second goal of the game. This was a product of Pugh dropping a number of quality crosses into the box, but that time, they finally connected. It’s unfortunate that Pugh will miss a good portion of the next couple of months as she travels with the USWNT in preparation for the World Cup before heading to France.

“Yeah, I mean there was really only like a couple people in the box every attack,” Pugh said. “It was just something was telling me to whip it in and [Crosson] was like good thing I finished that one because the first one she didn’t finish. It was a great goal. She committed her run and I’m glad she scored it.”

Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit Megan Crosson celebrates after scoring her first goal of the 2019 season.

Next Up

The Washington Spirit will now travel to Utah to face the Royals on Saturday, April 20. Kickoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET.