At one point in Saturday’s NWSL game between the Washington Spirit and the Houston Dash, Spirit midfielder Tori Huster inadvertently headed a hard-kicked ball directly into the face of her teammate rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard who was a mere five feet from her. Both girls went down and eventually got back up. It was a microcosm of the Spirit’s 2017 campaign this far: Bad luck, injuries, and grit.
The Spirit lost the game to the Dash 1-0 on Kealia Ohai goal. However, the grit of team was apparent as the Spirit, who lost veteran midfielder Joanna Lohman for the rest of the year in the season opener two weeks, also played without three of the most important attacking players due to injury.
Two forwards, veteran Katie Stengel and second-year player Cheyna Williams, along with midfielder Kristie Mewis were all sidelined and unavailable after being injured last week. The injuries forced the Spirit to field a starting eleven that included every player with any sort of NWSL experience on the roster and 2017 first round draft pick Lindsay Agnew and a bench of four players who had with limited or no NWSL experience.
As a result, the Spirit were outshot by Houston 13-9 overall and had six shots on target to the Spirit’s one. Ohai’s goal came in the 28th minute, as the Dash captain went bursting down the left side of the field before settling and burying a shot into the far right corner of the net. Houston had a strong first half, controlling nearly 55 percent of the possession and racking up 204 total passes with 75 percent accuracy.
Washington turned things around in the second half, controlling nearly 63 percent of the possession and piling up 182 passes with a superior 74.2 percent accuracy rate. The defensive prowess of Spirit defenders Estelle Johnson, Shelina Zadorsky and Whitney Church was on full display, as they held the Dash to 57.4 percent passing accuracy after the intermission. Church led all players with three blocked shots, while Johnson had a game-high six tackles won.
Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé racked up five saves in the loss, not only stopping all but one of the shots she faced but also proactively closing out on attacking players and diving on the ball as they entered the box to prevent several other Dash scoring chances.
“Houston came out with a good gameplan in the first half, so a lot of credit to them,” said Spirit head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra. “I thought we played much better in the second half. Our defense and our goalkeeping have been very good. It's been a constant for us.”
Over the course of the full 90 minutes, Washington controlled 53.1 percent of possession to Houston’s 46.9 percent and completed 351 total passes (73.2 percent accuracy) to Houston’s 319 total passes (68.7 percent accuracy).
Washington’s newest signing, U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team forward Crystal Thomas, played 25 minutes in her NWSL debut, coming on for Lindsay Agnew in the 65th minute.
The loss on Saturday night in front of 3,154 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds drops the Spirit to 0-2-1 with 1 point in the NWSL standings. The Dash improve to 2-1-0 with 6 points in the NWLS standings
The Spirit will finish out its two-game homestand next Saturday, May 6 as Sky Blue FC is set to visit Maureen Hendricks Field. The Sky Blue are 1-1-1 thus far this season and are coming off a 1-0 victory over visiting FC Kansas City on Sunday night. Kickoff for next week’s Spirit games is set for 7:00 at the ‘Plex. Tickets for all Spirit home matches are available now at https://tickets.washingtonspirit.com.
Top: Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé (1) knocks a shot away from goal in the first half. She made five difficult saves and kept the Spirit in the game on Saturday night.
Next: Spirit midfielder Tori Huster (23) defends Dash forward Janine Beckie (16).
Next: Spirit forward Francisca Ordega (14) heads the ball during Saturday’s game.
Next: Spirt defender Estelle Johnson (24) plays the ball past Dash midfielder Denise O’Sullivan (13).
Photos by Germantown Pulse.