Spirit Clinch Playoff Spot for Third Straight Year
It wasn’t pretty, but the Washington Spirit — Germantown’s hometown profession women’s soccer team — earned one point in a draw with the Western New York Flash on Saturday night, and that was enough to secure a top-four spot in the post-season. This is the third, straight year the Spirit have made a post-season appearance.
The Spirit and Flash played to a 1-1 draw, in a thrilling match which saw the Spirit take a 1-0 lead in the second half, but the Flash continued unrelenting pressure in the Spirit defensive third. So much, that the Spirit went to five-person back-line in an effort maintain the lead. However, the gambit didn’t pay off as Western New York was able to get the equalizer in the 86th minute.
The Spirit remain in first place in the National Women’s Soccer League with 36 points and a record of 11-3-3, after Saturday’s match in front of 4,527 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
It was apparent early on that the Flash were going to apply pressure to any Spirit player on the ball. “I thought they really put us under a lot of pressure, and we had a lot of trouble grabbing the tempo of the game in the first twenty-five minutes,” said general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “But second half I think we rode it out.”
That pressure resulted in Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys recording 12 saves throughout the 90 minutes, several of which were deciding factors in the Spirit securing the draw. Wys came up big, tipping the ball over the crossbar and clearing in crucial moments. In the 37th minute, a cutback cross landed right at the feet of Western New York’s Lynn Williams just inches from the top of the six-yard box. Williams blasted a ball toward Wys, but her quick reaction allowed her to tip the ball away from the net to roll out for a Flash corner.
The scoring in the match finally opened in the 64th minute when Crystal Dunn sent a ball in toward the feet of Spirit forward Katie Stengel, who had taken several chances on net throughout the game. Stengel found herself one-on-one with Flash goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, who was running off of her line. D’Angelo could not get a hold on the ball, and Stengel jumped over the keepers’ dive, leaving her facing an open net. Stengel drove a shot from the right side that soared into the left side of the goal.
In the 79th minute, Gabarra substituted Olympic Bronze Medal winning defender Shelina Zadorsky in for goal-scorer Stengel in an attempt to sure up the Spirit back-line as the Flash continued to put pressure on Wys and the Spirit defense.
In the 86th minute, Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn made a jumping save, heading the ball off the line after a Flash shot. Just seconds later, after chaos in the box, Flash midfielder Sam Mewis found the ball sent it towards goal with a low driven shot from the top of the penalty box. Wys was able to get a hand on it, but could not stop the force of the ball, bringing the score to 1-1.
The Spirit are back in action at the Maryland SoccerPlex in three days as they will face the Seattle Reign for the first game of a home-and-home series on Wednesday, September 7 at 7:00 pm. The Reign will be Hope-less as their top goalkeeper, Hope Solo, has opted not to play for the team after her six-month suspension the U.S. Women’s National Team. Solo was suspended after she made inflammatory comments about the Swedish National Team after the USWNT was eliminated in an early round at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The Spirit will finish the regular season on the road at Seattle at 10:00 pm on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Wednesday’s home game could be the final home game for the Spirit at the Plex this year. However, a win on Wednesday or a win at Seattle next Sunday will solidify a home playoff game for the Spirit at the SoccerPlex. The NWSL Championship game is scheduled for Oct. 9 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Top: Spirit goal keeper Kelsey Wys (18) punches a corner kick away the goal mouth as the Flash’s Nikki Erceg (6) attempts to head the ball. Wys would come up huge with 12 saves to keep the Spirit in the game on Saturday night.
Next: Katie Stengel (12) opened the scoring in the 64th minute of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Western New York Flash.
Next: Spirit midfielder Tori Huster (23) tangles with Flash midfielder Lianne Sanderson (10). Sanderson and the Flash would keep the pressure on the Spirit all game.
Next: Spirit forward Crystal Dunn (19) traps a ball while being defended by the Flash’s Abby Dahlkemper (13) and Elizabeth Eddy (4) during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Western New York Flask
Next: Joanna Lohman (15) on the ball as the Flash’s Jessica McDonald (14) closes in.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.