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.
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.”
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.”
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)