BOYDS — Perfect weather did not bring perfect play to a tight match between the Washington Spirit (1-2-0) and the undefeated North Carolina Courage (3-0-0). In front of 3400-plus spectators, the visiting Courage robbed the Spirit of a home match win by 4-2.
Experts predicted the Spirit would be doing well to score a single goal against a team that has allowed no goals scored against them during regular season play. The Spirit surprised everyone by not only being the first team to score against the Courage, they did it in the first three minutes of the match.
Spirit forward and U.S. international player Mallory Pugh broke the clean-sheet streak of the Courage with the Spirit’s first goal. Courage keeper Sabrina D'Angelo did everything she could to block the unassisted shot by Pugh, but there’s no shame in losing to one the world’s most formidable forward players.
Not used to having a team score against them, and so quickly in a match, the Courage struck back. In the 20th minute, forward Crystal Dunn put a shot into the net off an assist by Jess McDonald. A mere four minutes later, North Carolina struck again. A direct free kick by McCall Zerboni got past the Spirit wall and netted another Carolina goal. North Carolina went to the locker room at halftime leading 2-1 over the Spirit.
Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said of the free-kick goal by the Courage that the Spirit players chose a bad setup for the defensive wall. It was nearly 15 yards away, a mistake by the Spirit that gave the goal to the Courage.
Coming off the halftime break, the Courage reversed scoring roles and struck another goal three minutes into play in the 48th minute. Scoring her second goal of the match, Zerboni picked up a beautiful assist from Kristen Hamilton to put the Courage up 3-1.
Spirit players never seem to lose their resolve in a match. Often that is how they win, by wearing down the other team. Nevertheless, as the current top team in the National Women’s Soccer League, the Courage didn’t succumb to the Spirit’s continued attack.
The Spirit’s tenacity did lead to a second goal when Havana Solaun fed Francisca Ordega a pass that Ordega soundly throttled into the net. It was not Ordega’s first shot on frame of the night, but it was her first shot on frame that scored. Ordega played an outstanding match.
However, the goal that finally sealed the match for the Courage came in the 66th minute when Dunn played the ball to Williams who saw her slot and blasted a shot past Spirit keeper Bledsoe. Mindful of the score and fighting back to try and level the goals, the Spirit never stopped fighting. The match ended with the Courage winning 4-2.
Comparing the Spirit to the rest of the NWSL, the Spirit is the third-highest goal-scoring team with five goals this season, the same as the Portland Thorns who are listed in second place because of their better winning record. For shots on goal, the Spirit is also in third place in the League. Number one in saves is Spirit keeper Audrey Bledsoe with 20 saves.
When the Spirit find their rhythm this season, they will be unstoppable. Every match has been an improvement over the previous one. They scored two goals against a team no one else had scored against and their stats show they are strong.
The next home match for the Spirit will be on April 28 against the Chicago Red Stars. Kickoff will be at 7:00 p.m. at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.