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)