The stadium at Maryland SoccerPlex was packed with fans last Saturday night and the pitch was packed wth FIFA Women’s World Cup players, as the Spirit managed a 1-1 draw to keep pace with the National Women's Soccer League-leading Chicago Red Stars.
The game marked the return of Spirit Women’s World Cuppers Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris to the field, as the hosted Chicago with World Cup champs Julie Johnson, Christen Press and Lori Chalupny.
The Red Stars tested Harris and the Spirit defenders early, forcing Harris to make two outstanding saves that brought the 5,100 fans at the Plex to their feet. The Spirit came back and tested the Chicago keeper, Karina LaBlanc, who is also the keeper for the Canadian Women’s National Team.
But it was Chicago’s Press that got Chicago on the board in the 30th minute with a long, low shot to the left corner of Harris’s goal.
Spirit forward Laura del Rio, who had come close to scoring with a two shots in the first half, was stretchered off the field with what appeared to be an ankle injury two minutes for before half-time. Del Rio was taken to a local hospital. She suffered a non-displaced fibula fracture and will be out for the two or three months, according to the team. The Spirit would go into half-time down 1-0.
After half-time, the Spirit attack seemed to step up. In the 82nd minute the Spirit’s Christine Nairn evaded a defender and put a shot on goal which deflected off a Chicago player and Crystal Dunn followed up on the rebound and blasted the ball into the back of the net. Dunn with her ninth goal of the season, equalized for the Spirit bringing to score to 1-1.
Chicago would come right back with a chance from Press to the far corner, but Harris was there with an acrobatic save to keep the game tied.
The draw keeps the Spirit right in the hunt at the third spot, six points behind Seattle and five behind Seattle.
Saturday’s game was the second in a row to draw more than 5,000 fans to the Plex to watch women’s soccer.
Next week promises another packed Plex, as Women’s World Cup Golden Ball winner and USWNT hero Carli Lloyd will lead the Houston Dash against the Spirit. As of 12:30 pm on Wednesday, the Spirit reported less than 700 general admission tickets remained available for Saturday’s game vs. the Houston Dash.
Houston will come into the Plex looking to win the rubber match of the three-game series with the Spirit. Houston won the first game at home in the season opener, 2-0, on April 10. The Spirit was able to avenge the loss at home on June 27 with a 1-0 win.
Lloyd and Houston come into the Plex just four points behind the Spirit and packing a roster of Women’s World Cup players supporting Lloyd including, USWNT players Morgan Brian and Meghan Klingenberg, along with Canadian players Lauren Sesslemann and Allyscha Chapman.
Top: Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlynn Harris (1) stops a shot in the first-half of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the Chicago Red Stars.
Next: Three World Cup Champs, Washington Spirit’s Ali Krieger (11) plays the ball between Chicago Red Stars’ and fellow USWNT members Christen Press (23) and Lori Chalupny (17).
Next: Spirit forward Crystal Dunn (19) races to the ball ahead of Red Stars’ Lori Chalupny (17).
Photos by Germantown Pulse