Like an omen of more woe to come, the high-tech SoccerPlex lightning-detection system sounded the nerve-jolting claxon of horns throughout the arena, indicating to everyone that all fields at the SoccerPlex were to be cleared immediately.
The national anthem had just finished, the match was all but started and dismayed fans were told to leave the stadium. They filed out, heading for their cars listening to the announcer prodding people to go hold onto their blue tickets for re-entry when the all-clear horns sounded three times. Five-plus hours later at 8:50 p.m., the match that was to be played live on Lifetime at 3:30 p.m. finally started, albeit streaming on a Lifetime website instead of on live television.
At the 25th minute, during what Caitlyn Buckley described on Twitter as “a car wash” of a rain storm, Red Star forward Yuki Nagasato took a free kick. Her kick skimmed over the heads of the Spirit defense and landed just in front of Spirit keeper Kelsey Wys, who got both hands on the ball but could not hold on to it in the driving rain. The ball went off to her right, outside the frame, as she scrambled to get herself righted. Sam Kerr, a world-class forward from Australia who plays on their national team as well as the Red Stars, closed in on the ball from the left with Spirit forward Whitney Church in close pursuit. Kerr slotted the free ball into the back of net, right past Wys who could not turn fast enough to block the shot.
An easier goal would be harder to find. While Kerr finished off the play with Church closing in fast, the Spirit players who made up the defensive wall stood and watched Kerr’s attack unfold.
As Spirit Head Coach Jim Gabarra has said many times before, “In this league, on any given day, any team can beat the other team. It’s always tight and it comes down to taking your chances or denying the other team easy chances to score an easy goal.”
The Red Stars took their chance and succeeded. Going to the locker rooms at the half, the Red Stars led 1-0.
Both teams returned to a mostly rain-free pitch. The ball still rolled ever so slowly and slipping on the wet grass was easy to do, with or without cleats. Minute 48 found Nagasato settling an aerial pass and centering it. She passed it off to Alyssa Mautz who touched it twice and passed it back to Nagasato who had centered herself a bit further back. Nagasato unloaded a rocket shot to the left side of the frame. Wys’ dive to the right to block the shot proved unsuccessful, and the Red Stars had another goal on the board.
The Spirit played with a full roster, with the exception of Mallory Pugh who was out for injury evaluation from last week’s game against the Houston Dash. Players from the Spirit previously called up for U.S. Women’s National Soccer team play, Pugh, Hatch, LaVelle, and Sullivan, were bypassed for the latest national team roster leaving the Spirit with a loaded powerhouse of National team-caliber players.
Meanwhile, the Red Stars had to do without defender Sofia Huerta, midfielder Julie Ertz, and keeper Alyssa Naeher, as they had all been called up for USWNT upcoming friendlies. Yet, despite missing three impactful players and suffering from a seven-game losing streak, Chicago still managed to skunk the Spirit.
NWSL standings put the North Carolina Courage in first place with 29 points; the Courage have gone undefeated so far this season and will likely finish in first place. The next seven teams in the standings are separated by nine points with the Seattle Reign FC leading the group at 17 points and the Spirit pulling up the rear at eight points.
The Spirit are not yet out of the running for the playoffs; they can still make it. Still, at 13 games into a 26-game season, the Spirit’s current standing is at eighth place in the league.
The Washington Spirit’s next match is an away game on June 8 against Sky Blue FC at 7:00 p.m. Returning home again on June 16 to the Maryland SoccerPlex, the Spirit will take on the Seattle Reign at 7:00 p.m.