BOYDS — Sitting at the bottom of the National Women’s Soccer League’s standings, the only improvement the Washington Spirit could have gained Saturday by winning their match against the Seattle Reign FC would have been ninth place. Unfortunately, even that small victory was not to be; The Spirit lost to The Reign at Maureen Hendricks Field, 3-2.
Initially, it looked like The Spirit might pull off a win as they dominated the first half. Mallory Pugh opened The Spirit’s chances with a goal assisted by Dougherty Howard in the 27th minute. She followed up in the 23rd minute off a cross pass by Havana Solaun that Pugh buried into a wide open net. At halftime, The Spirit went to the locker room up 2-0 over Seattle.
The second half opened fast and aggressive, just like the first half, but it was The Reign controlling the ball. Using long balls that skirted the Spirit’s midfield, The Reign started wearing on the opposing defense. At the 71st minute, Jessica Fishlock with an assist from Kiersten Dallstream easily got a shot past Spirit keeper DiDi Haracic, scoring Seattle’s first goal. The game was now 2-1, in favor of The Spirit.
While the Washington Spirit have been known for carrying their energy through to the final whistle, spectators saw the Washington team start to flag after The Reign’s first goal. Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra was regularly calling out for his team to move up.
“Up, up, up!” Gabarra would shout and the team looked to comply by ambling along at a slow trot.
In the 83rd minute, five minutes after she substituted into the match, Larissa Crummer scored The Reign’s second goal, assisted by Fishlock. The match was now tied at 2. The second goal seemed to energize The Spirit, as their intensity started to return.
However, when the 90th minute rolled onto the clock, The Spirit lowered their guard for just a moment and Fishlock struck again off an assist by Dallstream, giving The Reign what would be their winning goal, the final score 3-2. Three minutes of stoppage time play didn’t provide any more goals for either side. The season was over, with the Washington Spirit in last place for the first time ever.
In some respects, neither team had much investment in this game. League standings would not change and neither team was going to the National Women’s Soccer League Playoffs, no matter the outcome of this game. The Reign’s odds of making it to the playoffs evaporated completely last week with their loss to Kansas City. Likewise, The Spirit’s chances faded a few weeks earlier as a season-long litany of illness and injury took chunks out of the starting lineup with every match. This game was no different, with The Spirit roster for this match listing eight players as out, one as doubtful and one as probable.
With the 2017 season now over for The Spirit, the team can start preparing for next year, and learn from mistakes made over the past six months. While not the richest team in the league, The Spirit may surprise us with new talent, possibly from the U.S. women's national soccer team or even the European leagues. They are used to being in the thick of the league, playing one of the top four positions. This year was The Spirit’s first time at the bottom.
Hopefully, it will be their last.