Soccer karma does not exist, most of us have agreed. But can a team make its own luck?
Saturday at the SoccerPlex looked like a typical Washington Spirit game against the Western New York Flash for 45 minutes. The Spirit had a few promising moments — one difference from previous engagements would be the world-class goal from Jodie Taylor that gave the Spirit the lead. But the Flash led 2-1, and it could’ve been more.
In the second half, the Flash either forgot or declined to play soccer. They looked less like the Flash playing the Spirit and more like the Virginia Beach Piranhas bringing their “physical” presence against D.C. United Women.
Stating for the record: The Flash are not a dirty team. But it’s still stunning to watch a team riddled with world-class players and a history of accomplishment come in against the Washington Spirit and foul out of frustration and retaliation. Their petulance — and what coach Aaran Lines described as an inability to string three passes together — was costly.
And the Spirit made their own luck as well. A couple of tactical adjustments gave the home team quite a bit more of the ball, and they dominated the second half to a greater degree than the Flash dominated the first. Final score: 3-2 Spirit.
That’s a confidence-booster for the hosts. Jodie Taylor finally got her goals — two, nearly four. Yael Averbuch played her best game for the Spirit. Lori Lindsey got an extended run and fared well. Robyn Gayle defended well and was close to a goal and an assist. Ali Krieger did just fine at center back.
Referee Katja Koroleva had a puzzler, often allowing outright muggings while punishing the odd single-handed shove. Lines wasn’t happy: “The referee was inconsistent, regardless of the result. But that seems to be a tendency within the NWSL.”
But the Flash simply forced Koroleva to blow her whistle. She went nearly 45 minutes without calling anything on the Flash, but some fouls were just too obvious.
Here’s the video, and here’s how it unfolded:
6:15 – Big flurry for the Flash as Ashlyn Harris can’t hold a hard shot.
7:15 – Hard sliding foul from Spirit defender Bianca Sierra on Sonia Bermudez. Sierra started at right back, with Ali Krieger going to the center to replace the injured Toni Pressley.
8:15 – Spirit midfielder Veronica Perez goes hard for a 50-50 ball, banging into the midsection of a Flash player.
8:20 – To paraphrase The Untouchables, she sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of hers to the morgue. The Flash’s Carli Lloyd clobbers Christine Nairn, who gets up and looks back as if to say “What the …?” Danielle Malagari, the Spirit’s color commentator, goes out on a limb and predicts a physical game.
But that’s the last foul called on the Flash in the first half.
10:35 – Lori Lindsey sends a well-weighted ball ahead to Jodie Taylor, who finishes with a world-class chip. 1-0 Spirit.
12:55 – Adriana hits the crossbar for the Flash.
16:35 – The camera doesn’t quite catch the dubious decision involving Tori Huster, a required part of every Spirit game. Abby Wambach flings the Spirit defender to the grass like a Nickelodeon game show contestant ridding herself of slime.
16:55 – The unlucky Huster finds herself isolated against Wambach in acres of space, and Wambach simply heads exactly where she wanted it to go. 1-1.
19:00 – The crowd doesn’t like an offside call that nullified yet another Taylor goal. Replay is inconclusive.
29:25 – Lloyd wins a duel with Huster, then beats Krieger and Harris while avoiding Gayle. 2-1 Flash.
34:20 – Lloyd takes a knock to the eye or nose when she tangles with Averbuch. Hard to see what happened, but no one complains.
Flash coach Aaran Lines was pleased with how the first half proceeded. But oddly enough, so were the Spirit players and coaches.
“We were really happy at halftime,” Spirit coach Mark Parsons said. “Really positive at halftime despite being 2-1 down.”
Parsons made a couple of changes. Krieger was already at center back, replacing the injured Toni Pressley. At right back, Sierra started but gave way at halftime to the small Swiss Army knife that is Crystal Dunn, who shifted back from midfield with the intent of containing Bermudez, a Flash’s Spanish international.
And the Spirit merely brought on one of the best players in the sport, Diana Matheson, who sat out the first half and spent halftime jogging and smiling at the parade of ODSL youth players being honored for sportsmanship. You have to hope they didn’t get any ideas from what they saw in the second half.
“We came out the second half and we were really flat,” Wambach said. “Credit to the Spirit for making changes and making life difficult for us on the other side of the ball. To be honest, the second half, we were defending the whole game.”
So the Flash tried to make life as difficult for the Spirit as the officials would allow. Matheson stepped into a hornet’s nest, credited with two fouls suffered but roughed up much more often than that.
55:25 – Save, Abby Wambach
56:05 – Lloyd clatters into Matheson from behind, drawing a whistle and some words from the ref.
64:30 – Lloyd gives a little “Who, me?” look after getting a little bit (not much) of Dunn’s foot along with the ball.
68:15 – Kristen Edmonds drapes an arm over Matheson and brings her down. Foul and a lecture.
69:15 – Gayle nutmegs a defender. Cross is partially cleared to Yael Averbuch, who beats Lloyd and shoots. Deflected, then Taylor fires up off the crossbar. Bounces off Kat Williamson’s back and in. 2-2.
72:45 – It’s nothing, really, but it’s funny to see Wambach reaching out to grab Matheson like she’s swatting at a fly. Just a slight size difference there.
73:05 – Harris comes out for the second time in a minute to deny an onrushing Flash attacker — Salem this time, Spencer earlier.
73:30 – Nairn shoots high while Lloyd slides through her legs. No whistle.
74:10 – Salem gets the yellow, again for a foul on the unfortunate Nairn.
77:05 – Nairn suffers another foul. And that eventually leads to …
77:30 – Averbuch flicks a header, Taylor finishes. 3-2
85:05 – Gayle seems to be attempting to jump OVER former teammate Jasmyne Spencer. Not quite. Ref starts to play advantage but then calls it back.
85:35 – The Wambach-Huster incident (replay at 87:15). We’ll come back to this.
89:05 – Ref doesn’t think Angeli fouled Lloyd
90:15 – Spirit commentator Michael Minnich isn’t imagining things. The sign on the fourth official’s table says “3.” But by the time he actually raises it, it says “5.” (No, there wasn’t a sub wearing No. 3.)
91:55 – Maybe this is karma. The call for a corner kick is clearly wrong. Harris sets up for a goal kick. What you don’t see is a very confused ballgirl. Then Harris makes a save off the corner kick. The rebound … goes wide.
93:45 – Hey, Spirit? Need help killing those five minutes? Sure — I’ll just slide through the back of Renae Cuellar here, drawing my second yellow, and I’ll be slow to get up while the ref holds my red card.
Lines faulted his player, Angela Salem, not the ref. “At that point in the game, to see Ang go in was unfortunate.”
But that was the story of the second half for the Flash. They played nothing that really resembled soccer.
Malagari, sometime in the second half: “I think the Flash have kind of dug themselves a hole here. They’re kind of playing, I personally think, for blood a little bit. The fouls have been pretty dangerous in and around their own 18.”
We can’t let the game go without mentioning the Wambach-Huster incident at the end. While Harris calmly collected the ball, Wambach raced past Huster. From the replay, it appears Huster was actually turning her body out of Wambach’s way. And still, they bumped into each other — in the same way that my car recently bumped into a concrete wall in a parking garage.
Did Huster embellish her fall? Hard to say. But from one reliable reporter on the sideline, Wambach didn’t exactly deny making contact:
I thought at first Cynthia was kidding, like I was kidding last summer when I suggested what Alex Morgan could be saying and unleashed the wrath of Morgan’s Twitter followers on myself. Cynthia says no.
Tori, care to comment?
“Not really,” she said. “Just gotta leave that kind of stuff on the field. It gets heated. There’s not really not much to say.”
Rough game, though, right?
“They are definitely intense,” Huster said. “They can move the ball around, but they have that grit to them. So we were definitely trying to prepare for that in the week leading up. We knew we had to get stuck in the first five minutes and impose our rhythm.”
As she left, I reminded her to tend to the blood on her left wrist. Not sure how she got that.
Matheson was diplomatic. “They’re definitely a physical team. Lloyd and Wambach always come to battle. But in this league, every team is a physical team, so I don’t think it’s too different.”
But that physicality can be self-defeating. Look at the second half, and it seems the Flash literally took their eyes off the ball.