BOYDS — On a beautiful summer evening at Maureen Hendricks Field in front of 3,096 fans, the Washington Spirit (2-5-1) outplayed the Houston Dash (2-6-0) for a 2-0 win.
Showcasing Mallory Pugh’s second start in the NWSL, the Spirit opened the match with speed and a dynamic attack. The speed caught the Dash by surprise and allowed Cheyna Williams to score the first goal of the game in the third minute. Havana Solaun of the Spirit provided the perfect pass to Williams that allowed her to slot the shot into the back of the net.
Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra had said two weeks earlier that when the team does not score in the first 20 minutes of home games, they tend to lose the match. The early goal by Williams was an excellent indicator of the final outcome.
Spirit defender Whitney Church seemed to be in all the right places at the right time to keep the Dash from breaking through the final line. On the rare occasion the Dash got past Church, Estelle Johnson, or Alyssa Kleiner, defender Shelina Zadorsky was in place to end the possession for the Dash.
There were moments of brilliance in the choreography of the group when moving the ball away from the Dash. They shut down the Dash’s key players Kealia Ohai and Nichelle Prince for the duration of the match.
Labbè confirmed the improvement in the Spirit’s defense, “...we just keep trucking and keep working. I think defensively today we were much tighter and seemed to have a little bit better connection with the full team. “
In the second half, the Dash attempted to create more opportunities than they had in the first half, taking possession of the ball more often, but the Spirit defense still held its own. Labbè continued to show why she has the highest save count in the league by performing some amazing acrobatics to keep the ball out of the net when the Dash had chances to place shots.
In the 69th minute Mallory Pugh picked up a pass from Kristie Mewis, touched the ball twice and nutmegged the shot past the Dash goalkeeper Lydia Williams, chalking up another goal for the Spirit.
For Pugh this was her first goal as a professional player. Although she had already scored two goals while playing on the US team in the 2016 Rio Olympics, this was her first as a professional soccer player. She is also the youngest professional female player to score a goal in the NWSL.
The Spirit spent the remainder of the match keeping the Dash from putting the ball into the net.
All expectations were met, as the Spirit celebrated a victory and a goal by phenom Pugh, during a night of perfect weather. The Spirit picked up a win and 3 points in the standings.
After the match Coach Jim Gabarra said of the game “The result is great, 3 points and a clean sheet. I thought we could have put the game away in the first 10 or 15 minutes but we kind of left them in it so that is something we are going to address and a little bit of a killer instinct to attack and score even if you are ahead.”
International friendly soccer games are scheduled for the next week and a half. The NWSL will be taking a break from competitive match play during this time to allow team players to travel with the teams of their national origin.
For the Spirit their next game will June 17th in Chicago against the Chicago Red Stars. Their next home match will be against the Portland Thorns FC on June 24th at 7 p.m.However, the Dash did not fold up shop and play a defeated match. They hung on strong and made their own opportunities in the first half. In response, Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbè and the four-person backline wouldn’t let the Dash take advantage of those opportunities.
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