The Washington Spirit will wrap up a three-game road trip with a mid-week meeting with the NWSL leading North Carolina Courage tonight.
It has been a rough trip for the Spirit. Washington plays its third game in 10 days on the road, falling 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, July 1. On Saturday, the Spirit fell to the Orlando Pride 2-1 after conceding a late goal in the 86th minute. Tonight they will face the defending NWSL champs and a team that has lead the league all season.
Kickoff from Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina is set for 7:00 pm in the third and final meeting between the Spirit and Courage in 2018.
Forward Ashley Hatch tallied for the Spirit and broke the Washington scoreless drought on Saturday on a header off a corner kick. Hatch took over the team lead in goals scored with her fourth goal of the season.
Washington fell to 2-10-4 (10 points) as Orlando improved to 6-5-4 (25 points) as the Pride grabbed all three points late in the contest thanks to a strong individual display from Brazilian international Marta who scored the game-winner in the 86th minute.
The Spirit went ahead early in the 26th minute when Hatch broke the Washington scoreless drought on a header off a corner kick taken by defender Whitney Church. Hatch took over the team lead in goals scored with her fourth goal of the season. Hatch’s goal was the second goal this season she scored on a header off of a set piece and was the earliest goal she has scored in a Spirit uniform.
Orlando equalized in first half stoppage time when Sydney Leroux beat Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe near post on a close strike to level the contest right before the half.
Leroux was credited with the game-winning assist as found Marta in the midfield who weaved her way past the Spirit defense and roofed her right-footed shot into the top of the net to give the Pride the late 86th minute winner.
Early in the contest, Washington was forced to use a substitution. Minutes into the game Francisca Ordega collided with Pride goalie Ashlyn Harris and was unable to continue. Meggie Doughtery Howard substituted into the contest in the 10th minute.
In the second half, Washington produced the first big scoring opportunities in the then tie game. Hatch nearly recorded a brace when her shot required a diving save from Harris in the 62nd minute. One minute later, Estefania Banini nailed the inside post, almost putting the Spirit ahead.
Following the late Pride goal, in stoppage time the Spirit came close to equalizing as Bledsoe and the defense came up from the backline to throw numbers forward in the box. Caprice Dydasco recorded the best chance as her shot just missed the top right corner four minutes into stoppage time.
The Pride led the offensive barrage with 31 shots including 12 shots on goal. Washington recorded 16 shots, five of which were on target. Washington goalkeeper Bledsoe tied a season-high 10 saves in her first return to Orlando as a member of the Spirit.
Following the early substitution Washington was required to make, Havana Solaun and Rose Lavelle each earned significant second half minutes as substitutes for Andi Sullivan and Banini, respectively.
Tonight’s opponent, North Carolina, has maintained strong form as the team has in much of 2018. At 12-3-1, the Courage are winners of three straight games by a combined total of 11-2 against Chicago, Orlando, and Seattle.
The Courage last played on July 4 against Chicago, defeating the Red Stars 4-1 in Cary. Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams, Debinha, and Kristen Hamilton each scored in the team’s dominant performance. The match also featured Heather O’Reilly make her debut for North Carolina.
In the first meeting between the Spirit and Courage, Washington fell to North Carolina 4-2 on April 14 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. After Mallory Pugh opened the contest’s scoring in the third minute, North Carolina answered with three unanswered goals. Francisca Ordega tallied in the 58th minute to bring the score within a goal, until the Courage scored in the 66th minute to bring the game to its final score of 4-2.
On May 12 in North Carolina, the Courage defeated the Spirit 1-0 behind a 63rd minute goal from Abby Erceg.
To dethrone the Courage, the Spirit will look to continue offensive success it created against Orlando. The team recorded 16 shots against the Pride including five on target. Potentially available for the Spirit will be Rose Lavelle and Havana Solaun who both came on as substitutes in the second half against Orlando.
The Washington Spirit returns home to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Saturday, July 21 to take on the Houston Dash. Kickoff is set for 7:00 pm.
Top: Spirit defender Estelle Johnson (24) with a slide tackle on North Carolina’s Lynn Williams (9) during the first meeting of these two teams back on April 14 at the SoccerPlex.
Video: Ashley Hatch heads in a Whitney Church corner kick to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead in last Saturday’s game with the Orlando Pride.
Photo by Germantown Pulse. Video courtesy Washington Spirit.