The Spirit jumped out to an early lead thanks to Natalie Pugh’s goal in the opening three minutes of Saturday’s game, but a brace from North Carolina’s McCall Zerboni bookended by goals from, former Spirit stand-out, Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams combined to give the Courage a4-2 victory over the Spirit.
The Washington Spirit (1-2-0, 3 pts.) fell 4-2 to the North Carolina Courage (3-0-0, 9 pts.) Saturday night in front of 3,458 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
U.S. international forward Mallory Pugh opened up the scoring for Washington. Pugh is coming off a great weekend of play with the USWNT where she netted the 10th and 11th international goals of her young career. On Saturday at the Plex in just the 3rd minute of play, Pugh connected on a right-footed shot from the center of the box. She recovered a loose ball off a deflection in the box and placed the shot in the top right corner of the goal, just past Courage goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo for the 1-0 lead.
The Courage responded with two unanswered goals in a span of four minutes by Dunn and Zerboni to take a 2-1 lead by the 24th minute. Dunn leveled the game in the 20th minute on a goal assisted by Jessica McDonald, and Zerboni found the net in the 24th minute from close range on a strike assisted by Williams.
Early in the second half, Zerboni added to the Courage lead in the 48th minute with a close-range shot past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe for her second goal of the game.
After 54 minutes of play, Spirit midfielder Havana Solaun entered as a substitute and immediately inserted herself into the offense. After just four minutes on the field, Solaun threaded a pass through three Courage defenders to Francisca Ordega, who planted a shot past D'Angelo to pull the Spirit within one goal.
Despite Washington controlling 55.8 percent of the possession and taking five shots in the second half, North Carolina put the game out of reach in the 66th minute with a goal by Williams, set up by an assist from Dunn. Williams' goal pushed the lead back to 4-2, which held for the remaining 24 minutes.
Spirit defenders Caprice Dydasco, Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, and Taylor Smith each played the full 90 minutes for the third time this season.
Pugh led the Spirit with three shots, while Ordega recorded two. The Spirit controlled the overall time of possession with 50.9 percent and were outshot 16-8.
With the loss, the Spirit fall to 1-2 on the season. The unbeaten Courage maintains the spot in the standings. Washington is currently in Fifth Place in the NWSL standings.
Washington will return to action on Friday, April 20 on the road against Portland Thorns FC. Kickoff is set for 10:30 pm at Providence Park. Portland currently sits in Third Place with a record of 2-1.
While Pugh started both for the USA in both of the international friendlies against Mexico, playing 76 minutes during the April 12 win and 57 minutes in the April 15 game, Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan also earned a spot in the starting lineup on April 12 and Ashley Hatch came on as a second-half substitute. Sullivan played 52 minutes in the April 12 4-1 win, and Hatch played the final 10 minutes while earning the second cap of her career with the senior national team.
The Spirit returns home on Saturday, April 28 to host the Chicago Red Stars for another 7:00 pm kickoff at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Tickets are available.
Top: Washington Spirit celebrate after Mallory Pugh (11), scores in the 3rd minute to give the Spirit a lead early.
Next: In the first half, Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe (1), who is 5-feet, 8-inches tall leaps for a ball just prior to being headed by North Carolina’s Jessica McDonald (14) who is 6-feet tall, as Spirit defender Caprice Dydasco (3), who is just 5-feet, 2-inches tall, is banged around between the two players.
Next: The play began a frantic sequence. The ball slipped out of Bledsoe’s hands and bounced allowing McDonald to gather it, Bledsoe would get a hand on it from her knees and attempt to gather it in.
Next: McDonald kicked it free, but Dydasco stepped up and attempted to clear the ball, it ricocheted off McDonald and was sent in a high arc toward the Spirit goal.
Next: Spirit defender Estelle Johnson (24) would head the ball back towards Bledsoe would eventually fall on it bringing an end to a hectic and dizzying play in a dangerous spot for the Spirit.
Next: Johnson (24) with a slide tackle to get the ball away from Crystal Dunn (19) in the Spirit goal box.
Next: Spirit forward Francisca Ordega (14) celebrates with Mallory Eubanks (22). Ordega scored on an assist from Havana Salaun in the 58th minute to cut the Courage lead to 3-2.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.