On the surface, the Washington Spirit’s 2-0 loss at Kansas City doesn’t look horrible. Playing without five injured players, with one center back still adjusting to new teammates and a star forward barely getting time to meet the team, a loss on the road against one of the top NWSL teams doesn’t look too bad. Perhaps even one of the team’s many moral victories on the season.
But a closer look at the game turns up a grimmer picture.
Collectively, the team may had valid excuses. World-class midfielder Diana Matheson and utility midfielder-defender Tori Huster joined an injury list that already included emerging striker Caroline Miller and Mexican attacker Lupita Worbis. Center back Candace Chapman showed in the previous game that she’s still not ready to go 90 minutes. By game’s end, the Spirit had fielded all 13 healthy field players, all on a hot day on unfamiliar turf. That included the new player, Conny Pohlers.
Individually, the breakdowns in this game may not be as easily brushed off.
The stats say a lot. After a promising start — through 17 minutes, the Spirit had two shots to Kansas City’s zero — the Spirit had little possession and therefore no offense.
The problems started with Kansas City’s 18th-minute goal. Somehow, in the Spirit’s midfield shuffle, pesky forward Jasmyne Spencer was left to rotate from one player to the next. The “next” in this case was U.S. international Lauren Cheney, whose hard, high shot smashed off Ashlyn Harris’ fingers and the crossbar before nestling in the net.
From then on, Harris was busy. She finished with eight saves. Robyn Gayle saved another shot, getting behind Harris for a vital clearance. Between their heroics and some dreadful Kansas City finishing, a game that could have finished 4-0 or 5-0 was held to a respectable 2-0.
The other end of the field was hardly used for the 47 minutes between Kansas City goals. Conny Pohlers, the great German forward making her Spirit debut, claimed a loose ball in the midst of five defenders and at least forced Nicole Barnhart to make a save in the 34th minute. Spencer recorded a shot in the 57th minute, but that stat says more about the stat-keeper’s generosity than the run of play.
The Spirit’s first corner kick finally came in the 63rd minute, and Pohlers may have set herself up for a decent chance if the ball hadn’t slipped away from her on the fast turf. Instead, Kansas City countered. Then this happened:
– At the 63:37 mark, KC’s Renae Cuellar took a long pass at midfield. The Mexican star, who surprisingly came off the bench in this game, ran first at Domenica Hodak but then went to the middle against Robyn Gayle, the only other Spirit defender staying back on the set piece.
– As Cuellar drifted right, Gayle stuck to her. And Hodak drifted into the middle. That left an acre of space for Lauren Cheney to race forward on the left.
– At the 63:46 mark, Cuellar found space past Gayle and shot. Harris parried it to KC’s right.
– 63:49: Gayle has gone out to face Merritt Mathias, who has collected the loose ball. Holly King has returned to the area to mark Cuellar, who’s still in a dangerous spot. Stephanie Ochs also has made it back, but she and Hodak are gathering at the right post.
– 63:52: Remember Lauren Cheney? Yeah, she’s still wide open inside the 6-yard box, a few feet inside the left post. Hodak’s at the right post, and Ochs has just realized the danger a second too late. Ali Krieger is returning but is still 10 yards behind Cheney when Mathias’ cross lands on Cheney’s foot. Harris would need Star Trek teleportation technology to get across the goal in time. 2-0
“Where was the marking?” asked my friend in soccer and MMA, Sean Wheelock, who was soloing in the KC commentary box. I’m sure the Spirit coaching staff would like to know.
The Spirit pressed forward in the last 20 minutes, getting two chances that each flowed through substitute Colleen Williams. In the 72nd minute, they had their best sequence of the game. Spencer swiped the ball from Kristie Mewis (whom some Twitterati think the Spirit should have drafted ahead of Tiffany McCarty) and played it back to Holly King. Immediately, King played ahead to Williams in the middle of the field. Williams took a couple of touches in space and played a beautiful through ball to McCarty, whose shot beat Barnhart … and glanced off the post.
In the 81st minute, the Spirit got its sixth and final shot (third on goal). It was Williams to McCarty to Spencer, who rolled a meek shot straight to Barnhart.
A few weeks ago, the Spirit had a legitimate claim to be the sixth- or maybe fifth-best team in the league, and they had a chance of getting better with the younger players catching on and Pohlers and Pressley coming aboard. To get back in the mix, they’ll need to get healthy. And they’ll need better luck. But they’ll also need to show a bit better than they did in Kansas City.
Like the photos? See more on Latda Siharath’s Flickr feed — and thanks for permission to use them here!
Match report with quotes from the notables at Pitchside Report.