In a startling outcome, the Washington Spirit (1-1-0) outplayed the Orlando Pride (0-1-1) this past Saturday in a 2-0 win over the visiting Orlando team. Playing in front of 4,989 spectators, the Spirit played a back-and-forth match of relatively even moves with the Pride until the 80th minute.
The Pride, failing to mark U.S. international player Mallory Pugh as tightly as they had earlier in the match, opened a canyon of space for Pugh. Pugh, with possession of the ball off a pass from Ashely Hatch, did what she usually does: maneuver the ball faster and better than everyone else on the pitch.
Pugh outran the Pride’s Alex Krieger, who was closing in from behind. She outpaced,Canadian international player Shelina Zadorsky, the Pride’s center back defender, who ran parallel to Pugh but unable to get close enough. At the last moment of open space between her and the net, she lit off a shot that nutmegged keeper Ashlyn Harris and stopped in the back of the net. She scored the first goal of the match in the 80th minute. The Spirit were ahead 1-0 over the Pride.
There was an immediate celebratory reaction from the crowd for Pugh and then a smaller but noticeable collective sigh for an ex-hometown crowd favorite Harris, the keeper for the Pride, and one of the original Washington Spirit players when the National Women’s Soccer League first began.
Harris and Allie Krieger were once the joy of the fans when they played for the Spirit. Both are now members of the Orlando Pride. Strong vocal support from the stands still remains for both players when they return for matches in what was once their home field.
In the 86th minute, lightning struck again. Pugh dribbled the ball up an open side of the field and placed a wonderful cross in front of the net. Unfortunately, there were no Spirit players able to collect the pass and take a shot. Instead, the ball careened off a Pride player and was rolling unpossessed directly across the front of the net.
Hatch dropped in from seemingly nowhere. Not missing a stride, she turned and put her right foot to the ball, snaking the shot around Pride midfielder Christine Nairn, was rushing forward from the net, and just out of reach of an athletic aerial save by keeper Harris to find the back left corner of the net. At minute 88, the Spirit were up 2-0 over the Pride.
When the referee signaled the end of the match, the book closed with a clean sheet for Spirit keeper Aubrey Bledsoe and three points added to NWSL standings for the Washington Spirit.
Orlando Pride head coach Tom Sermanni summed up the game nicely: “In these kind of games, it’s tight. You give someone like Mallory Pugh space and time, you get punished.”
Spirit head coach Jim Gaberra said of Pugh’s performance that she had many more chances, but she needs to be more aggressive with those chances and beat other players to the net instead of taking longer distance shots that might get blocked.
When asked if he thought the team was coming together, he responded: “Honestly, not really. I think this was more about getting the result, getting our first win of the season, getting some goals and getting a clean sheet and being solid defensively.”
Adding three points to the league standings puts the Spirit in third place in the NWSL. The next home game for the Spirit will be on April 14 at 7:00 p.m., Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.