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Spirit Beat New Jersey to Remain Tied for NWSL Lead

In an odd Sunday morning game, the Washington Spirit avenged last week’s road loss to Sky Blue FCin New Jersey with a 3-1 victory to keep the Spirit tied for the top spot in the National Women’s Soccer League with one game in-hand.

The game had to be rescheduled from its original time at 7:00 pm on Saturday, July 30 due to rain and lightning from the storms which blew through the Germantown area. The game was postponed until 11:00 am on Sunday. Despite the change in time, the Spirit still drew almost 3,000 fans, coming just short with 2,930 heading to Maryland SoccerPlex on a sunny Sunday morning to watch the final match of the season against the Spirit’s regional rival.

The Spirit got goals from one likely and two unlikely sources as they beat New Jersey 3-1. Argentinian midfielder Estefania Banini got the scoring started in the 27th minute. The goal was set up when midfielder Joanna Lohman took a pass from forward Katie Stengel in the box and flicked the ball with the outside of her foot for Banini, who ripped a shot from the top of the box past the diving Sky Blue FC goalkeeper, Caroline Casey. Banini now leads the team with five goals in 2016.

A water break due to the high heat and mid-morning sunshine allowed Sky Blue to regroup and they came out and earned an equalizing goal from forward Tasha Kai in the 33rd minute to tie the game a one goal apiece.

Spirit rookie forward Cheyna Williams put the Spirit back on top in the 39th minute. She controlled a cross from Caprice Dydasco and put a shot to the far post which finished in the goal. The goal is the first professional goal for Williams who was drafted by the Spirit out of Florida State University with the seventh overall pick in the first round.

Spirit goalie Kelsey Wys made two big saves midway through the second half to keep the score at 2-1. Sky Blue forward Maya Hayes played Kai a through ball into the box, where Kai shot to Wys’s right. Wys had already dived to her left but was able to get a foot on the ball and kick it clear. Moments later Wys stopped Kai again, this time from point-blank range at the penalty spot.

Substitute defender Alyssa Kleiner put the game out of reach in stoppage time with her first career goal. After a scramble in front of the net, the ball fell to the feet of Kleiner at the top of the box, and she hit a half-volley to the top right corner.

Washington and Sky Blue split the season series, with each side winning twice. The Spirit’s 29 points keep the team tied atop the National Women’s Soccer League table with the Portland Thorns. The Spirit has played one less match this season than its Pacific Northwest rival.

After a two-week break for the Olympics, the Spirit returns to action Aug. 18, playing a make-up game with the Houston Dash on the road. The Spirit have another road game against the Orlando Pride on Friday, Aug. 26. The Spirit return to Germantown to host the Western New York Flash at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, Sept. 3.


Top: Spirit forward Katie Stengel (12) heads a ball away from Sky Blue FC’s Nikki Stanton (7) during Sunday morning’s game.

Video: Highlights of the Spirit v Sky Blue FC game. Courtesy NWSL.