In a pivotal game with significant playoff implications and revised lineups for both teams, the Washington Spirit fell badly, 6-1, to the Portland Thorns. From being in playoff position for several weeks, after losing three straight Washington dropped to fifth, while Portland slipped past them to take fourth.
If at the end of the season the Spirit fail to make the playoffs, we might well be looking back at the 69:49 mark of this game. After giving up two goals early, DC had fought hard for the next hour, gotten one goal back, and looked the more likely team to get another. Then backup goalkeeper Chantel Jones muffed a backpass from Niki Cross, sending it right to Alex Morgan, who quickly settled the ball and chipped it over the Jones and into the net.
“The third goal was a killer,” said Spirit head coach Mark Parsons. “I thought we were going to get that second goal. When that third goal went in, we changed the shape, went to three at the back. Soon as we went three in the back, we lost our rhythm, and they looked more dangerous.”
The Thorns would score three goals in the final six minutes to turn a comfortable win into a blowout. Of course, if the Spirit don’t give up two goals early, it’s a different game, too.
The Spirit started a new back line with two new players, with, from left to right: Robyn Gayle, Niki Cross, Ali Krieger, and Alex Singer, with Cross and Singer playing their first matches for the team after arriving earlier in the week. The first goal came down to some problems between Krieger and Cross. Krieger sent a square ball over to Cross but put way too much pace on it, so Cross had to chase it down. Then her attempted clearance was deflected right to Alex Morgan at the near post. Morgan had some space but instead decided to send it to Christine Sinclair at the top of the box, who powered it off the upper left side of the crossbar and in.
In the 11th minute, Portland’s Sarah Huffman sent a free kick into the box that Jones tried to punch away but whiffed on as it curved away from her. It got slipped to Sinclair right on the line, but her shot was blocked. Morgan tried once and sent it off the post, a second shot was blocked and sent high in the air, then when it came down Morgan headed it into the net. “The first ten minutes is the craziest I’ve ever seen,” said Parsons, inspired in part by that sequence.
After that the home team seemed to settle down and were working hard to claw a goal back. In the 14th minute they almost had one, with Jodie Taylor getting a ball past Michelle Betos, but Sarah Huffman cleared it off the line. In the 35th minute, Taylor had another chance on a nice through ball from Lori Lindsey, but she shot it low and right to Betos.
The just-acquired Lisa De Vanna came in at the beginning of the second half and just missed scoring three minutes later, her slide not quite enough to put a rolling Lindsey cross on target.
At the other end, in the 52nd minute, Morgan chased down a ball outside the left post and sent it out for Vero Boquete, who just missed wide right.
The Spirit goal would finally come in the 62nd minute. Lindsey sent a ball to Diana Matheson deep on the right. Matheson crossed it back to Lindsey in the box, who kicked it out for Christine Nairn. Nairn’s first shot was blocked, but the rebound came right back to her. She brought it to the top of the box and fired it in low, and it managed to get under Betos and in.
Then came the 70th minute, and the pile-on began. The Spirit held on for a bit, but in the 85th minute the Thorns came in with Farrelly, Boquete, Sinclair and 82nd-minute sub. Farrelly sent it forward to Boquete at the top left corner of the box. Boquete looked for a shot but then crossed it to Sinclair. Sinclair slipped it to an onrushing Farrelly, who sent a shot in that Jones saved, but the rebound went right to McDonald, who fired it in with Jones on the ground.
Three minutes later, Huffman sent in a cross from the left that went through substitute defender Danesha Adams and came right to McDonald out from the right post, and she knocked it in for her second goal.
Finally, in stoppage time with the Spirit playing up, Allie Long sent a ball to Boquete on the left, who fed it back to her. Long managed to get around Cross and fire in an open shot into the right corner.
Despite the lopsided score, though, the Spirit didn’t seem that down. “We played really well,” said Jones. “At times we moved the ball really nicely. On the goal, that was probably the best buildup that we had the whole game. Just sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce the way you want it to. That’s all right. We’ll rebound next game. We have a really important game in Houston, and we’re going to be focusing on that all week.”
Parsons thought a lot of it was just a matter of not getting the breaks. Quoting one of the players, he said, “Everything that could have gone wrong in the box for us did. Everything that could have gone right for them did.”
He was also optimistic about the new acquisitions, again attributing the quote to someone else. “New players have come in, first game, and if they already look that good, imagine how they’ll be when they’ve trained with us.”
He said that a lot of the injured players are returning to health, and that he has some tough choices to face down the line. In particular, he’s hoping that Crystal Dunn will be available for Washington’s next match, at the Houston Dash on Saturday, June 28, at 9 pm EDT.