Cheyna WilliamsGame Day CoverageMallory PughStephanie Labbe

Spirit’s early strike dashes Houston’s hopes of victory

After three straight losses, the Washington Spirit found themselves on the winning side of things Saturday evening at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Goals from Cheyna Williams and Mallory Pugh coupled with a strong performance from goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé helped Washington get by the Houston Dash 2-0 in front of 3096 fans.

Starting XI: Labbé; Johnson, Church, Zadorsky, Kleiner; Solaun, Dougherty Howard, Mewis; Williams, Ship, Pugh Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit

For the second straight week, the Spirit picked up an early goal to take a 1-0 advantage. Washington took the lead in the 3rd minute after a well timed through ball from midfielder Havana Solaun found Williams for her first goal of the season.

“It just happened really quick,” Williams said. “We talked about how we just wanted to attack today, we wanted to come out explosive. Havana played a great ball and I was like shoot, all I have to do is finish it. I know it’s early but just finish on one play at a time and that’s kinda what it was like.”

Unlike the game in Kansas City the week before, the Spirit were able to hold on to the lead heading into halftime. Strong performances from all parts of the field played a big part in holding the lead. While the team made adjustments from last week to improve in this area of their game, head coach Jim Gabarra stills wants his side to do a better job at maintaining a lead.

“I thought we probably could have put the game away in the first ten or fifteen minutes but we kind of let them in it so it’s something we are going to address and kind of a little bit of a killer instinct, continue to attack and score even if you’re ahead,” Gabarra said after the game. “After you score a goal, you should have energy and you should actually try and get a second goal right away, rather than kind of relax and take a rest and a pause. It’s definitely better than it has been in the last Kansas City game and it’s also an area that we can improve upon.”

Kristie Mewis and Mallory Pugh embrace after Pugh’s first professional goal. Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit

The Spirit would double the lead in the 69th minute when Mallory Pugh scored her first professional goal. Pugh’s goal came after a well-organized passing sequence saw six different players make a pass before the 19-year-old slotted the shot through Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams’ legs. With her goal, Pugh became the youngest player to ever score in the NWSL.

“It’s cool, especially against this intense team and in this league,” Pugh said. “There’s great players and to be able to score in this league, it’s super special. In practice, we were working on those types of shots, when it comes across your body and you want to place it back where it came from. I was hoping for it to go, just curl it into the back post, but it went through her legs and went in.”

For the Spirit, the shutout was the first of the season. After giving up 13 goals in the last four games, it appeared as if a shutout would not be coming. However, the Washington backline came together with Labbé to put in the group’s best overall performance of the season.

“I’m really happy right now. Getting a shutout feels really good,” Labbé said. “As a goalkeeper and part of a backline that’s what you strive every day to get. Getting that is a big relief. Just like all year, we just keep trucking and keep working. I think defensively today we were much tighter and seemed to have better connection within the full team. I think that’s what led to that shutout.”

One of Stephanie Labbé’s eight saves in her first shutout of the year. Kelley Piper | Follow Your Spirit

The league will now go on break as many national teams are participating in friendly matches during this week’s FIFA window. Labbé, midfielder Lindsey Agnew and defender Shelina Zadorsky have been called up to the Canadian National team for two matches vs. Costa Rica on June 8 and 11. Pugh has also been called up to represent her national team as the United States will travel to Scandinavia to take on Sweden and Norway on June 8 and 11, respectively.

“For me, I’m just excited to get back with that team and that environment,” Labbé said of the upcoming friendlies. “Those girls are some of my best friends and I’ve been on that team for so long. So just to get back with that group of girls and enjoy it for what it is and just kind of be present when I’m there and take it all in and then come back with the Spirit.”

Washington will return to action on June 17 when they travel to Chicago to take on the Red Stars. That match is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET and can be found on Lifetime as part of the Game of the Week series. The Spirit will then return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on June 24 as they host Allie Long and the Portland Thorns.

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