The Washington Spirit welcomed the North Carolina Courage to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday evening. In their first matchup of the regular season, the Spirit (1-2-0) fell to the visiting Courage (3-0-0) 4-2.
Washington opened up the scoring in the third minute off of a goal from Mallory Pugh. The Courage tied it up in the 20 minute on Crystal Dunn’s first career goal with North Carolina. Just four minutes later, a free kick goal from McCall Zerboni put the visitors ahead. Another goal from Zerboni and one more from Lynn Williams in the second half ultimately sank the Spirit. Despite a goal from Francisca Ordega in the 58 minute, a comeback just was not in the cards for the Spirit.
Set Play Goals Sink the Spirit
Of the four goals the Spirit gave up on Saturday night, two came off of set plays. The first goal from McCall Zerboni was off a free kick from just around 20 yards out. The free kick came from a mistake by Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who played the ball with her hands outside of the 18 yard box. Another mistake came in the wall placement and Zerboni was able to slip the ball around and into the back of the net.
The second goal for Zerboni came off of a corner kick. North Carolina moved the ball around well off of the corner and the Spirit failed to clear. The ball eventually was played across the six yard box and found a wide open Zerboni at the back post.
“I mean this is one of the best teams in our game on set plays and that was certainly a goal to not concede on a set play,” head coach Jim Gabarra said. “But the first one, the wall was 15 yards away and it’s a bad mistake by our goalkeeper to give away a free kick there. So that could have been prevented by not giving them a free kick. If you get a properly set wall, maybe we get to block it. The other corner, that’s a mistake defensively, letting the player turn and drive the ball across the six.”
Partnership Forming On Left Side
While the Spirit have many new faces on the field, one partnership that is in full bloom is the one between Mallory Pugh and Caprice Dydasco. With Pugh playing in the midfield this week, the partnership was really highlighted.
In the first half, this combo was tearing up the North Carolina defense. However, it wasn’t until about halfway through the second half that the duo got going again. If they can continue the play, it’ll be a headache for the NWSL defenders going forward.
“Whoever you put out there with Caprice, Caprice finds a way to blend in and work well with whoever is out there,” Gabarra said. “I think with Mal out there, Mal is a similar case. It’s pretty easy to play with her, she’s such a good player. As we develop, we like to see those relationships throughout the group.”
Mallory Pugh Leaves Game With Injury
Spirit forward Mallory Pugh left the match in the 75 minute after pulling up because of an injury. While it is unknown what the injury is exactly, it appears to be on the right leg of Pugh. After exiting the game, Pugh was sporting an ice pack on her lower knee and upper shin area. She will be further evaluated this week.
The Spirit will head out to the west coast for their next match. Washington will travel to Providence Park to face the Portland Thorns on Friday, April 20. Kick-off for that match will be at 10:30 p.m. ET.