What’s changed for the Washington Spirit this season? It’s pretty simple. Goals.
Never before had the Spirit scored three goals in a half. Only once last season did they have three or more in a game. Tonight, they had three in the first half and held on to beat FC Kansas City 3-1.
We can’t read too much into one game. Sometimes those shots go in, sometimes they don’t. The first goal was the result of a fortunate bounce toward Diana Matheson and a little deflection — exactly the sort of goal Mike Jorden often hoped for but never saw in his tenure as Spirit coach.
Maybe on another night, Ashlyn Harris isn’t in the superior form she showed tonight. Or Lauren Holiday is slightly more clinical in her finishing. Or soccer karma (which doesn’t exist) doesn’t help Harris make the big PK save on Holiday after a dubious penalty call.
FCKC outshot the Spirit 17-7. They had nine corner kicks to the Spirit’s zero. Three of the Spirit’s shots went in; another was saved only by the grace of Becky Sauerbrunn, KC’s best player on the evening.
“We had the better of the game, I thought,” KC’s Amy Rodriguez said. “We had the chances — we just didn’t convert them.”
“We can look good and play the beautiful game, but if you can’t put the ball in the net, nothing else matters,” KC coach Vlatko Andonovski said after graciously congratulating the Spirit.
It won’t be like this every game. But there’s one thing that has substantially changed for the Spirit:
My goodness, this rookie can play. She just gets the ball at her feet and drives straight at older, bigger defenders, usually with good results. Twice, the ball wound up at Matheson’s feet, and the Canadian sparkplug didn’t miss. Another time, she got past defender Kassey Kallman, who was forced to haul her down to set up a free kick and a yellow card.
I counted one mistake — a giveaway midway through the first half. She turned around and got it back.
She was supposed to be working her way back to match fitness, not playing the full 90. But there she was, in the inexplicably long second-half stoppage time, making a diagonal run across the field that killed off much of the remaining time. After the game, she hopped up into the stands to take a selfie with one of her many admirers. She looked like she could play another 90.
“I’m glad I look like I could run 90,” Dunn said with a laugh. “I felt great out there. Going into this game, I thought I was only going to play 75. But I’ve got a full game under my belt, and I’m ready for the next one.”
Dunn and Matheson lined up on the wings and shifted back and forth a bit. Good luck dealing with that, NWSL defenses.
The Spirit have a few leaks at the back. The center backs lost track of Holiday and company more than once as they tried to play a high line — a tactic they wisely abandoned as the game wore on. Good thing Tori Huster and Toni Pressley have recovery speed and a lot of heart. Tonight, it wasn’t costly except for one lapse in which Rodriguez was able to pounce on her own rebound after a strong Harris save. And they blocked a lot of shots — Parsons said Robyn Gayle took three shots to the face. Probably feels better after a win.
The center midfield — Lori Lindsey playing in front of Yael Averbuch and Christine Nairn — was solid, and Nairn scored the third goal on a gorgeous bending free kick to the same upper corner in which Matheson drilled her second goal.
So let’s say it one last time — games aren’t always going to go this way for the Spirit. But with Harris, Dunn and Matheson providing the highlights for a team with much more experience and depth than the 2013 Spirit, the good games shouldn’t be as far between this time around.
“The players decided to put a flag on this stadium and say we’re not going to get rolled over,” Spirit coach Mark Parsons said. “One of the players spoke about putting a flag down and make sure when people come here, they’re not just looking at the pitch going, ‘What a great field, we can’t wait to knock it about.’ It’s ‘We’ve got to play the Spirit tonight. They’re going to kick the crap out of us at every opportunity. They’re not going to stop running.'”
Rodriguez on playing after pregnancy and childbirth: “I didn’t think it was going to be this difficult. I’m working my way back. I feel like I’m not quite 100%. …
(I asked: Did Joy Fawcett make it look too easy?) “She did. They didn’t warn me at all. I give a lot of respect and credit to those girls who’ve had children and come back.”
Speaking of soccer-playing parents …
Sauerbrunn, less impressed with her game than I was: “Unfortunately, I’m going to take a lot of responsibility for the goals the other team scored, so I’m going to say (her save and her saving tackle on Lindsey) were neutralized.”
Harris on her PK save: I’ll have to upload the audio on this conversation to do justice to Harris’ outstanding comic timing.
UPDATE: As promised, here’s the audio of Harris on saving a PK after Rodriguez fell in the box.