Spirit Earn Playoff Home Game in Drama Filled Night at the Plex
There was lightning, there was controversy, there were injuries — there was enough drama at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Wednesday to fill a full season of a soap opera, but in the end the Washington Spirit pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Reign to earn the club its first home playoff game in franchise history.
The drama started before the game. The unusual late-season Wednesday night game was delayed for over an hour due of the lightning from thunderstorms that raced through the Germantown area last evening leading to the cancellation of high school sporting events throughout the region, including the Seneca Valley boys and girls soccer games. Those have been rescheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Another layer of drama was added when Washington Spirit owner Bill Lynch decided that he wasn’t going to allow Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe to protest during the playing of the National Anthem, so he ordered that the anthem be played prior to the teams taking the field.
Once the game started, the Spirit fielded a lineup which many fans did not recognize. Faced with playing the second of three games in an eight-day span, Coach Jim Gabarra decided to rest many of the usual starters and test the Spirit’s team depth against a Seattle team that had just one loss in the previous five games.
On the bench for the Spirit at the beginning of the game were usual starters Ali Krieger, Joanna Lohman, Katie Stengel, Tori Huster, and Crystal Dunn.
However, Dunn would enter the match in the sixth minute after Spirit rookie Cali Farquharson went down with an injury after a collision with a Seattle player. As fate would have it Dunn would be involved in both goals, the first coming right before halftime and the second coming six minutes before another lightning delay in the second half.
The Spirit were given a chance to take the lead in the 42nd minute. Washington’s Cheyna Williams was fouled in the box, earning a penalty kick for the Spirit. The Spirit’s Christine Nairn took the resulting penalty but missed wide of the post.
As the five minutes of first-half stoppage time drew to a close, the Spirit drew a foul near midfield. Nairn played the free kick along the ground on the right flank to Dunn. She cut inside on her left foot and fired a shot from the top of the box that hit the bottom of the crossbar and into the net, giving Seattle goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer no shot at a save.
The second Spirit goal also came as a result of an impressive effort from Dunn in the 62nd minute. Dunn was once again cutting in from the right and firing a shot towards goal. Kopmeyer got her hands on the shot, but could not control the save. The Spirit rookie Williams swooped in and buried the rebound for a 2-0 lead.
After a lightning delay in the 67th minute, (which saw many of the 3,039 in attendance head home), the Reign cut the Spirit lead in half. Nairn was called for a handball in the box, leading to a Seattle penalty kick. Seattle’s Kim Little stepped up to the spot and placed the ball in top shelf to make the scoreline 2–1.
Washington hits the road for the final two games of the regular season, traveling to Seattle to take on the Reign again this Sunday, September 11 and to Chicago to face the Red Stars on Saturday, September 24.
Wednesday night’s win give the Spirit 39 points securing home-field advantage for the NWSL semi-final playoff game. The Spirit remain four points ahead of second place Portland Thornes FC with 35 points. Western New York Flash and Chicago Red Stars, with 29 points each, round out the top four teams in the league who would make the post-season. Seattle sits within striking distance at 24 points, but will need wins and help from other teams in the NWSL.
Top: Crystal Dunn (19) soars in celebration with teammate Cheyna Williams (20) after scoring her first goal of the season late in first-half stoppage time, during the Spirit’s regular season home game at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Next: Christine Nairn (7) collects the ball while Seattle defender Keelin Winters (11) pressures her.
Next: Dunn (19) rips a shot toward the Seattle goal. Goalie Haley Kopmeyer (28) was able to block the shot, but the rebound would be slammed into the net by the Spirit’s Chenya Williams to increase the lead to 2-0.
Next: Williams, Nairn, Dunn and Franny Ordega celebrate Williams’ goal.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.