One of the neat features of the Maryland SoccerPlex stadium field is the hill behind the south goal, which the Spirit sells as general admission. I’ve seen games from “end zone” seating, but I had never been up close and personal with the goal.
The kickoff was early enough (4 p.m.) to take one of my kids, and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. And I figured we’d make it especially interesting.
I wouldn’t want to watch every game from that vantage point. For one thing, you lose any credibility in terms of arguing offside calls. The action at the other end is distorted.
But this game had a lot of action for those of us on the hill. Here’s the video, some highlights and a bit about how it looked from close range:
– 3:56: Dash defensive breakdown, Jodie Taylor presses, ball pops out to Diana Matheson, who chips Erin McLeod for the opening goal. I actually said to my son, “Oh, too bad, it went high.” Then it floated into the net. So, yeah — you’re not going to get a good view of everything from this view. 1-0
– 11:24: This didn’t look the least bit dangerous, and I still have no idea how this ball rolled past Ashlyn Harris. 1-1
– 25:23: Harris’ best moment of the first half, shutting down the near post on Ella Masar.
– 37:10: Even from the other end, we could see Taylor astutely letting the ball bounce in front of her before finishing past McLeod. 2-1
Another first-half highlight: While I didn’t hear a ton of the legendary Harris shouting, I did hear her say something like “OK, no stupid throw-in, right?” before former teammate Stephanie Ochs tossed a long one into the box.
In the second half, most of the action was coming right toward us. It was full of squandered opportunities for the Spirit, who outshot the Dash 11-3 in the half. But every time, the ball just wouldn’t quite sit right. A lot of Spirit attackers were a little off balance when they shot. Lori Lindsey (45:35) couldn’t generate much power on her shot. Matheson (56:25) had a tough angle, and McLeod made a strong save. Tori Huster (61:58) wasn’t really in position to do any more than poke at it.
One distinctive feature of the angle I had — on several occasions, I saw Crystal Dunn cutting into the box, pointed straight at me. It’s scary. She’s not the biggest player, of course, but you just have the sense that she could do anything. But she, too, couldn’t do anything with the shot (63:52) she created.
Then the Dash had its one good spell of the second half. And even from across the field, we could see Osinachi Ohale hanging over the Spirit defense and finishing clinically at the post (76:22). 2-2, and you will never convince me that it’s a good idea to leave a post unguarded on a corner kick. No way Harris could’ve made it over there in time.
We do have to talk about the PK call (80:44). In real time, about 10 yards away,I saw McLeod charging out and figured the call was coming. She wasn’t getting that ball without getting Taylor. And now that I see the replay … I’ll stand by it. Some people on Twitter have said they saw Taylor dragging her feet as if in preparation to dive. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Contact is contact.
This play — forward going at a diagonal wide of goal, with little opportunity to do much, and a goalkeeper sliding out in a way that makes it too easy for a forward to trip over her — is always controversial. We’ve all seen it so many times. And about two-thirds of the time, the ref gives the PK.
McLeod argued, of course. And she was still mad when Matheson saved a ball on the end line (82:15). “Brutal!” she yelled at the AR. It wasn’t, but her frustration is understandable.
In between those plays, of course, McLeod saved a PK from Matheson. And what you can’t see on the replay is Matheson giggling as she steps up to the spot, as if a little embarrassed to be face-to-face with her Canadian teammate in that situation. It wasn’t Matheson’s best PK effort, but credit McLeod with the save.
And though I don’t think McLeod, in hindsight, could really complain about the call, we can all be glad it didn’t decide the game.
Because what DID decide the game was spectacular. If the Spirit could promise a finish like that in every game, it could charge $200 for hill seating. My thought process as Christine Nairn’s shot (stoppage time, see it on Instagram if you don’t want to work through the video) was airborne: “Holy (bleep), that ball has a — wow, it’s the upper corner.”
You have to feel for the Dash. They didn’t have the better of play, but the defense managed to limit things in the second half. They battled back for the equalizer. And it was all taken away so swiftly.
Houston has some good components. Kealia Ohai came on in the second half and just carved up the Spirit defense. Nina Burger is legit. I was impressed with Rafaelle Souza and surprised she was taken off at halftime. Ella Masar is always dangerous. Ohale and Holly Hein aren’t bad at the back. And McLeod never gets enough recognition.
I’ll be back in the pressbox for the next one, peeking around the obstructions and missing out on the sounds of the game. Memorial Day didn’t draw the Spirit’s biggest crowd of the season, but the Spirit Squadron’s chants and songs are fun.
And at the risk of sounding like a Yelp reviewer, the hill gets five stars.