For two-thirds of the game at Yurcak Soup Bowl last night, the Washington Spirit controlled two-thirds of the field.
The last-place team in the NWSL turned the first-place team (albeit a team weakened by key absences) into a counterattacking team on its home grass. Toni Pressley had a breakthrough game in central defense, keeping everything under control. The midfield of Julia Roberts, Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson had the better of the action, moving the ball forward with confidence.
But the Spirit simply could not convert in the final third of the field or the final third of the game. Sky Blue’s counterattacks grew progressively more dangerous and got a nice deflection when a ball landed straight in the path of Monica Ocampo, who had a frustrating game but has been an in-form scorer. 1-0 Sky Blue, and that’s how it ended.
For casual fans, I could see the game being a frustrating stalemate. Sky Blue only generated four shots on goal, and the first-half effort could hardly be more harmless — a Taylor Lytle effort that sailed straight to Ashlyn Harris, and a 35-yard Coco Goodson free kick that was surely intended as something else. The last two were actually one scoring chance — a shot, a deflection, and a goal on the rebound.
The Spirit was only credited with one shot on goal, but that’s deceptive — and possibly incorrect. Watching live, I thought this Diana Matheson shot was on goal — Brittany Cameron certainly was in no mood to let it go wide. The play-by-play calls it a “shot” (and mysteriously ascribes it to Toni Pressley). The Spirit immediately reclaimed possession, and then Stephanie Ochs didn’t miss by much.
Then came the chance Conny Pohlers would surely love to have again. Candace Chapman chipped the ball from midfield and caught Pohlers in stride, but the German striker’s first touch was too heavy, and Cameron came out to smother it. That, officially, was the Spirit’s only shot on goal.
Those chances were all in a six-minute stretch in the first half. Later in the half, we had what the Spirit has seen every game — an officiating howler involving Tori Huster. The Spirit’s utility player, lined up again at left back, made a clever passing combination and wound up free with a one-on-one opportunity against Cameron, only to be called offside.
Yeah, about that …
I was there — I can assure you the lawn-mower lines were running parallel to the end lines. And you’re welcome to check out the video.
(Other officiating tidbits: The ref added no stoppage time in the first half despite lengthy injury delays/water breaks, and players from both teams had to tell him several times the game ball was flat and needed to be replaced. PRO might want to consider making some sort of statement about what they’re going to do to fix NWSL officiating. We’re not just seeing bad judgment calls in split-second situations; we’re seeing basic failures of game management, and that’s inexcusable at this level. Some of these folks seem to understand the Laws even less than the typical TV commentator.)
The Spirit had to be deflated at halftime. They had 45 minutes of beating the top team in the league and nothing to show for it. They were playing their second game in four days, this one in 90-degree heat and high humidity. Worst of all, Colleen Williams had played only a few minutes in front of a crowd padded with her friends and family before falling with a terrible injury. We’ll wait for the MRI, but it doesn’t look good.
The visitors still managed another 15 minutes or so of good play before Sky Blue’s counterattack started to pay dividends. Jim Gabarra said he was planning not to play recovering national teamer Kelley O’Hara, but circumstances dictated her introduction, and she made the Spirit defense pay attention. In the 72nd minute, Goodson put a header just wide on a corner kick. Ninety seconds later, the winning sequence started. The Spirit managed very little in response.
Gabarra was gracious.
“I know they have some good attacking pieces, they’re very good in midfield. I think it’s just a matter of time for them to kind of figure it out.”
That would actually be bad news for Sky Blue, which will face the Spirit twice in August. Can the Spirit make enough progress to play spoiler?