Last season, the Washington Spirit went 3-0 against Sky Blue FC. So with the Spirit desperately needing a win to help their season, a winless Sky Blue came to town. The Spirit turned in one of the better overall performances from the squad this season and picked up a 1-0 win on Wednesday night.
Both teams were unable to break the deadlock in the first half with each team having shots go off the woodwork. Coming out of the locker room, Spirit forward Ashley Hatch was firing on all cylinders. She would finally put one home in the 64th minute, proving to be the difference for Washington.
Defense Comes Up Big
In the past three games, the Spirit defense has allowed just two goals with one coming off of a free kick. Rebecca Quinn and Whitney Church’s partnership was proving to be a positive one and when Estelle Johnson came back into the lineup on Wednesday night for Quinn, the transition was seamless. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe picked up her second shutout as a member of the Spirit in the 1-0 victory.
“I think Aubrey has certainly stepped up in these past couple games and she hasn’t been making that one or two big mistakes that create a good chance or goal for the other team,” head coach Jim Gabarra said.
One of the biggest keys to the new found confidence of the backline was the decision to switch up which side the center backs were playing on. When Johnson was out because of injury, Quinn stepped in to play at center back. At that time, the Spirit played her at right center back alongside of Taylor Smith, while Church would be on the left with Caprice Dydasco. With Johnson returning, she slid into the right center back role to keep Church on the left.
“We wanted to put [Quinn] on the side with Taylor,” Gabarra said. “Then when we bring Estelle back in, you’re basically making two changes rather than one so we put Estelle [on the right side]. Estelle is more comfortable on the right anyways so it might stay that way. I think the important thing is the relationship between Whit and Estelle is very good and [Quinn] and Estelle have a good relationship with Taylor and Estelle and Whit have a good relationship with [Dydasco]. Then that translates up to Tori and [Quinn] or Andi in the six role.”
Andi Sullivan Picks Up First Career Point
Mallory Pugh drew a foul in the attacking third for Washington roughly 63 minutes into the game. With it being too far out for a shot on goal, midfielder Andi Sullivan stepped up to take the kick. Sullivan played a well weighted ball towards the back post and found the head of Ashley Hatch. Hatch’s header would be good enough for the only goal of the game. With the assist, Sullivan picked up her first career professional point.
“Whit has been putting in some great services and I don’t know, for some reason I just felt inclined to take it and she let me which was great,” Sullivan said. “Then it was a little far out and we wanted to test their keeper but it was a little far and Mal looked at me and said serve it and I said ok. I think I like that service, like the back post bent service and Hatch is great in the air so I just looked to kind of hit it to that back six. It was one of those that as soon as it hit her head, I knew it was going in. So it was awesome, she is so good at that finish so I just wanted to serve it up to her.”
The goal was the first scored by the Spirit since April 28, a 1-1 draw vs. the Chicago. Hatch now has two goals on the year for Washington.
“Mal did a good job of drawing the foul and Andi set up and I just wanted to start wide and run in on it,” Hatch said. “Andi put a perfect flighted ball and it was easy just to run in on it and tap it in.”
Rose Lavelle Makes Her Spirit Debut
Spirit midfielder Rose Lavelle made her Spirit debut on Wednesday night, coming in for Estefania Banini in the 74th minute. Lavelle picked up her first NWSL minutes after having not played due to a hamstring injury since August of 2017. Her fresh legs helped the Spirit, who are playing three games in eight days.
“It felt really good,” Lavelle said. “I was really nervous going in because obviously I haven’t played in a about a lifetime. So I was really nervous but it’s the same game as before I got hurt. I just had to calm down and let my nerves settle and just enjoy the moment.”
Washington now heads to Houston on Sunday to take on the Dash. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. Houston sits just two points ahead of the Spirit and sit in 7th place.