Spirit dampen Reign, 3-0

It was a clash of streaks: the Washington Spirit had yet to lose at home in 2015 (4-0-1) , while the Seattle Reign were undefeated in their last 8 matches (5-0-3). With the Spirit missing both their WWC champions (Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger) and their Nigerians, I thought a tie would be an accomplishment. On the other hand, it would be the first chance for Diana Matheson to team up with Crystal Dunn as a forward, plus Seattle would be missing their champs (Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe) as well as key defender Kendall Fletcher, who was out with an injury. As it turns out, the moral of the story seems to be not to take your streak to Maureen Hendricks Field if you want to keep it going.

Before an all-time record Soccerplex crowd of 5,413, Washington dismantled Seattle, 3-0, for the most lopsided win in the Spirit’s history. (The previous women’s professional soccer record for Maureen Hendricks Field was 5,149, set on May 3, 2009, when Hope Solo made her first appearance at the ‘plex as her St. Louis Athletica took on the Washington Freedom.)

The match did not start particularly promising for the Spirit. They seemed tentative on the attack, passing the ball back-and-forth and back-and-forth among defenders rather than bringing the ball forward, then eventually losing the ball and bunkering with 6 or 7 players in the box when the Reign attacked.

Things started opening up in the 17th minute when Amanda Da Costa collected a beautiful long ball forward. She dodged toward the corner of the box, then slipped it to Dunn, who did some dodging of her own and fired a shot in. It was deflected to Joanna Lohman, who tipped it in, but Lohman was well offside.

Two minutes later Dunn was taken down from behind by Rachel Corsie, who was carded. Christine Nairn took the free kick from about 25 out but sent it off the crossbar.

The Reign had a similar opportunity in the 41st minute, but Kim Little fired it right into the Spirit wall.

The first half would end 0-0.

It took under a minute for the home team to get on the board in the second half as Laura del Rio brought the ball to the left end line and fired it in toward goal. Goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer totally whiffed on the ball at the near post, leaving Da Costa with an easy putaway in the goal mouth.

Matheson came on for Da Costa in the 52nd minute to a huge ovation from the crowd. It took her only 2 minutes to make her presence felt, as she sent a beautiful through ball to Dunn that Kopmeyer barely snagged in time.

In the 69th minute the pair combined again in a play that should have the rest of the NWSL quaking in their cleats. Nairn got the ball to Matheson on the Spirit defensive side of midfield. Despite having Stephanie Cox on her and three defenders in front of her, Matheson charged forward with only Dunn as support, brought the ball to about 30 yards out, and passed to Dunn at the top of the box. Dunn proceeded to somehow dodge around Elli Reed and then took what looked like a wild stab at the ball, but it went straight into the right corner netting.

Dunn would also figure in the 3rd and final goal, as she was tripped in the box by Cox in the 83rd minute. Nairn took the PK and fired it into the lower left corner. Kopmeyer guessed right but still couldn’t get there in time.

After the game, they could have formed a mutual admiration society. “She’s actually tricky to combine with,” said Matheson, “because she’s such an amazing dribbler that sometimes you just want her to go through three people while you just watch her.”

When I pointed out that between the two of them they’d taken on 4 defenders and scored, she replied, “She probably took on three of them.”

“Oh, my gosh, I miss her,” said Dunn. “I miss Diana. She just brings so much to the game. Her energy. I mean, I’m like, ‘You’re 31, and you’re booking like that? Goodness!’ I’m so excited. The day she showed up, I said, ‘Yes! I’m so excited!’ Great to see her out there.”

I mentioned the 2-on-4. “That’s what I love about her. She kind of has the same mentality as me. We look up, we see a bunch of defenders and most people are like, ‘Okay, maybe I should put my foot on the ball and wait for people to come.’ But she’s like ‘No, let’s go!’ And I was right with her like, ‘Okay, let’s go!’ [mimes running] It worked out. I really love her whole mentality and she’s relentless. She’s willing to take on everybody.”

As for the goal itself: “She played me a really great ball across the box. There was a defender stepping, and I just kind of took a touch around her [read: completely smoked] and just took a shot, took a chance.”

Not surprisingly, head coach Mark Parsons was very happy. “It was a complete performance. The intelligence the players showed tonight was exceptional, and there were so many great individual performances. We’ve got the most talented group in DC for the Spirit in its history.”

He noted that next week he has the tough but welcome challenge of fitting an additional five world-class players into the lineup. Matheson, meanwhile, mentioned that she didn’t think she was 90 minutes fit yet.

On the other side, the Seattle Reign have struggled on the road this year (1-2-2), with the only win coming against the Boston Breakers, as contrasted with being 5-0-1 at home. Reign head coach Laura Harvey has no explanation. “I don’t know. We’ve tried everything. We’ve changed our scheduling. We’ve changed the way we prepare. But we just can’t get going away from home. We’ve got to change that because if we don’t we’re going to struggle.”

Having faced the #2 team in the league, the Spirit this coming Saturday face the #1 team in the league, the 6-1-4 Chicago Red Stars. The Reign, meanwhile, are on the road again on Wednesday night against the Portland Thorns.

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