Sometimes there’s more to being the winning team than having more talent. Even without Abby Wambach (out with a broken bone under her left eye) and with a tired Carli Lloyd just back from her stellar Thursday night WNT performance, the Western New York Flash showed more mental toughness, behaving like last year’s regular-season champions as they downed the Washington Spirit, 3-1.
The Flash struck first in the 15th minute as Spanish national teamer and Barcelona captain Vicky Losada – playing only because Wambach was unavailable – was given way too much space about 35 yards out and was free to take a shot at goal with Ashlyn Harris well off her line. After the game, Harris took the blame for the score. “I think I was just caught out. Playing a high line today. It just didn’t work because we weren’t applying the pressure. Without the pressure, a player takes two touches and sees you on your six …. I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to see that there’s no pressure and get back on my line.”
Spirit forward Jodie Taylor had a few opportunities late in the first half but couldn’t quite get them on target, most notably receiving a through ball from Diana Matheson that she chipped over keeper Lydia Williams but just wide right. The home team wouldn’t equalize until five minutes into the second half, when Christine Nairn’s corner kick curved in toward net and went in off defender Amy Barczuk.
The excitement for the 2,306 home fans would only last about five minutes, though, as Krieger picked up a foul on the Spirit’s right flank. Losada stepped up and sent the ball to the far post where Brittany Taylor – poorly marked by forward Renae Cuellar – sent the ball in past Harris from a tough angle.
And that’s when the wheels came off the bus from the Spirit perspective, as head coach Mark Parsons noted. “That mentality when the second goal went in is not acceptable. There were too many people who were like ‘Here we go again.’ No, that was last year, that was when we had a different group of players, when we had different preparation. We’re going to hit that straightaway tomorrow. We’ve got so much ability. We can break anyone down, stop anyone. But when people don’t believe it and their body language shows it, we’re not going to be happy at all. And when things aren’t going well and you don’t believe it, you go back to bad habits: Toni hitting 60-yard rockets out of play, people getting into wide areas and sending crosses in to no one. We’ve got to improve that mentality and show some resilience.”
That kind of summed up the rest of the game. Western New York got the clincher in the 67th minute when Adriana Martin chipped a ball over the Spirit’s back line. Losada ran onto it and with Harris again playing high sent a beautifully placed ball into the upper left corner, giving her two goals and an assist – and probably Player of the Week.
Low spots for the Spirit included the reaction to the second goal, the performance of Renae Cuellar – who seemed to be mostly good for getting called offside – and the overall defensive performance, with the exception of Robyn Gayle. Parsons again: “Other people weren’t doing their job, she was getting dragged out of position, and then people were getting in where Robyn should have been, but that’s because other people weren’t taking responsibility.” That was rather a disappointment considering that the back line personnel seemed to be one of the team’s stronger features going into the match.
High spots included the return of Jordan Angeli, who came on in the 68th minute for Cuellar in her first professional appearance in (I’m told) 1100 days, after tearing her ACL in the Boston Breakers’ opening match of the 2011 WPS season. “I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. When I went out there it was like it was yesterday.”
Jodie Taylor also did well in the first half, but then the Flash double-teamed her the entire second half, and no one else stepped up to take advantage of the situation. Diana Matheson was her usual ubiquitous self, and Christine Nairn was deft and composed in her Spirit debut, Parsons citing her as an example of how the entire team should be. “What Christine did today, we worked hard to bring a squad full of that. They play under pressure, I mean, she turned Carli Lloyd. If she lost it, Carli’s in, but she was brave enough to spin and start linking. We need everyone to have the confidence that she did.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Spirit as they next face FC Kansas City – last year’s second-place team – at 6:30 pm next Saturday at the Maryland Soccerplex.