The west stands were packed. The east stands were packed. The beer garden was packed. The south hill was packed. All in all, 4,569 fans squeezed themselves into a stadium designed to hold 3,200. And for the future of women’s professional soccer, that was a more important number than anything that transpired on the field.
Happiness over the fan participation was tempered, though, by concern over Abby Wambach, who in the
80th 90th minute took a ball in the face at close range from teammate Brittany Taylor and was in uncertain condition after the match. Western New York Flash head coach Aaran Lines said after the match she was “not doing too well.”
Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris added, ““She got peppered in the face from point-blank distance. I could tell she was pretty dazed. I said, ‘Are you all right?’ She was mumbling. That’s not a good sign.”
Wambach will be checked out Monday morning. The Flash have their first home game next weekend, and it would of course be unfortunate if their hometown heroine were unable to play.
The match itself ended in a 1-1 draw, though that outcome would not have been expected based on the early run of play, which the Spirit dominated. Their best chance came in the 7th minute off a long ball from Julia Roberts to Diana Matheson, who got behind the defense but sent her shot wide left.
The Flash had the best chances from minute 19 on, though, as at that point Wambach got her head on a cross but got under it a little too much and sent it off the crossbar. Ten minutes later she had another header off a cross from the opposite direction that seemed destined to sneak inside the right post, but Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris made a leaping save to send the ball wide.
The second half was also more Flash than Spirit, but Western New York seemed almost incapable of finding the head of their FIFA Player of the Year striker, as corner kicks sailed over or past Wambach – the one she did manage to get her head on came to her fifteen yards out, too much of a distance for even her to produce a dangerous opportunity. Meanwhile, the Spirit defense kept her from doing much with her feet, with Tori Huster – a midfielder converted to defender just a month or so ago – doing yeoman work playing keep-away with Abby.
Going into the 85th minute, the odds of a scoreless result seemed good. But then Huster went into Wambach feet-first, giving the Flash a free kick and earning herself a yellow card. Brittany Taylor sent the ball into the box, where Wambach flicked it with her head on to Samantha Kerr at the right post, who vigorously nodded it down and toward Harris. It bounced off the goalkeeper and went into the net.
Western New York’s joy only lasted about a minute, though, as moments later second-half substitute forward Jasmyne Spencer – making her professional debut after being picked up off waivers just a couple of weeks ago – was taken down just inside the right edge of the box. Referee Kari Seitz immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Now on a team with almost nothing but rookie strikers, who takes the PK? In this case, it was veteran midfielder Matheson, who put the ball authoritatively into the left side of the net. Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch guessed right and leaped in that direction, but the ball was out of her reach. That would end the scoring.
After the match, the Spirit players were more interested in talking about the turnout than the result. “I was excited,” said Matheson. “I knew some of the other teams had got sold-out crowds, so I was hoping it was the same. I think it surpassed our expectations. We had a fantastic crowd. A few of them were cheering for Abby, so I didn’t approve of that. But aside from that, an amazing home crowd and they were with us until the end and hopefully they come out every week.“
Next chance to come out will be this Saturday at 7 pm as the Spirit host Sky Blue FC, coached by the only head coach the Washington Freedom ever had, Jim Gabarra. Meanwhile, the Western New York Flash have their home opener at Sahlen Stadium at 7:35 the same evening as they take on the Boston Breakers.
Photos courtesy of Tony Quinn.
SportsMyriad/Beau Dure: Washington Spirit vs. Western NY Flash: Dan Borislow was wrong
The Equalizer/Jennifer Gordon: Concerns surround Wambach after Flash, Spirit draw 1-1
The Washington Post/Steven Goff: National Women’s Soccer League: Washington Spirit 1, Western New York Flash 1
SB Nation/Kareen Drot: Washington Spirit vs. Western New York Flash: Final Score 1-1, controversy erupts in the box
SoccerNation/Diane Scavuzzo: IN A FLASH: Final Score 1-1 for WNY Flash vs Washington Spirit
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Abby Wambach injured, WNY Flash tie Washington Spirit
Maryland Gazette/Jennifer Beekman: Spirit’s home opener ends in tie
Washington Spirit: Capacity crowd of 4,569 witness history in home opening 1-1 draw
Western New York Flash: Flash pick up first point; draw 1-1 at Washington