By Kevin O’Rourke
The world of sports often gives us magical seasons, miracle seasons and just play fun seasons. The Washington Spirit women’s professional soccer team treated their fans to two of the three this year as their 2014 campaign fell just short of the NWSL championship game.
The Spirit’s quest to go from worst-to-first, ended early Monday morning here on the east coast, as they lost 2-1 to the Seattle Reign a NWSL semi-final game which was broadcast at 11:00 pm ET on ESPN2.
Last season, the Spirit was the worst team in the inaugural season for the National Women’s Soccer League, coming in dead last in a league of eight teams, posting a 3-14-5 record.
However, the Spirit came back this Spring with a new attitude and some personel changes. Coach Mark Parsons had the team buying into his philosophy and ended the magical 2014 season one game away from a championship, with a 10-9-5 record, including the team’s first ever NWSL playoff appearance.
And they did it playing a fun exciting style which allowed them to remain competitive in almost every game. It was a fun, magical season which ended one game short of miraculous.
Sunday night in Seattle, the Spirit played a taught first 70 minutes. In first half the Spirit’s Kerstin Garefrekes got a wide open look and ripped a shot, which was saved by the Reign’s Hope Solo. The rebound came out to Jodie Taylor, whose shot was also saved. The Spirit would maintain that pressure throughout the contest. Seattle was able to match that tempo. They challenged Ashlyn Harris with seven shots in the first half. Both keepers were excellent, and the first half ended 0-0.
After the half, the Spirit got on the board first in the 65th minute. Midfielder Diana Matheson cut back a pass from the end line to midfielder Veronica Perez, who took one touch before burying a shot past goalkeeper Hope Solo. With less than 30 minutes to go, the Spirit were positioned to advance to the championship. Then, the Reign showed why they are undefeated at home.
Six minutes later, it would be the Reign’s Kim Little coming through with the equalizer on a penalty kick, after a shot on the near post by U.S. Women’s National Team forward Sydney Leroux was knocked away by defender Toni Pressley, with the latter being called for a handball.
In the 78th minute, it was the Reign’s turn to be called for a handball in the box, giving the Spirit an opportunity to retake the lead. Diana Matheson took the penalty kick, but her shot was saved by Solo.
Later in the 82nd minute, Reign forward Megan Rapinoe gave Reign FC the game-winner, taking the ball away from the fallen Spirit defender Toni Pressley, and shooting it to the top right corner over the outstretched arms of Harris in a one-on-one opportunity for the game’s final goal.
The victory brings the Reign to the NWSL Championship match against FC Kansas City.
The defeat marks the end of the Spirit’s quest to go from worst-to-first, but the playoff appearance leaves fans hopeful for next season.
“It is a success,” Parsons told The Equalizer, a women’s soccer blog after last night's game. “The players and the staff have made it a great success. We now have to grow and improve and go forward and I have no doubt we’ll do that.”
After a magical run to the playoffs and fun season, which saw exciting games featuring last second – come from behind victories -- in front of large chanting, home crowds. The Spirit averaged 3,335 fans per game this season at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Germantown area residents should look forward to cheering on a hometown professional team which will continue to be a contender.