One of the appeals of soccer for me is the feeling that every moment counts, that a single lapse in play at any moment could cost you the match, or a little extra effort could win it. Other sports like (American) football or baseball have more of an ebb and flow – a goal-line stand or a three-two pitch – where some moments clearly matter than others, which has a different sort of appeal.
The critical moment in this match came at the 71:10 mark. Spirit rookie Meggie Dougherty Howard is bringing the ball forward at midfield and tries to send it on to fellow rookie Mallory Pugh. But she doesn’t get much on the ball, and Breakers defender Brooke Elby makes a quick dash forward to intercept it. She charges down the right, then centers for Rosie White, who takes a shot that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé has to leap to save.
On the ensuing corner kick, Rosie White sends it short to former Washington Spirit Reserve Midge Purce. The Spirit have done an execrable job of setting up to defend the short corner with no one out to mark Purce or White. Francisca Ordega – probably fairly low on the list of players Gabarra would pick to defend a quick, dangerous forward like Purce – rushes out to challenge, but Purce easily dodges around her to get off a hard, low shot that somehow makes it past Labbé for her first professional goal.
That being said, the Spirit had multiple opportunities to limit the damage of that moment. In the 7th minute, Kristie Mewis sent a corner kick past the far post where Whitney Church volleyed it back into the right-hand side of the goalmouth. But Elby – all 5’2″ of her – leaped to head it clear.
Havana Solaun had a chance in the 37th minute right in the goalmouth off a cross from Estelle Johnson but sent it right to the goalkeeper.
Pugh made a great move in the 57th minute that left defender Allysha Chapman on the ground and her with an open look at goal from deep on the right, but she sent it just wide left. Three minutes later she had another shot from a similar direction and bounced it off the underside of the crossbar and the goal line, but out.
“It was a frustrating, difficult loss to swallow,” said head coach Jim Gabarra. “I thought we had lots of good chances, just couldn’t seem to be in the right place at the right time or get a bounce. Could have been two or three in the first half, two or three in the second half, but that’s kind of how it goes sometimes, you have these games where you can’t score. We really didn’t find a rhythm until after the water break in the first half and then the second half we made some changes. We really couldn’t find a good rhythm that suited the players we had in there, but we had players in there who hadn’t played together yet, so it’s one of those investing in what you hope will happen in the next couple of games.”
Caprice Dydasco was one of those players, returning after tearing her ACL in the 2016 NWSL final and still getting back into game shape. “It’s been great. I’ve been practicing with the team in full contact for like two months already, but I think it’s just that Jim wants to slowly get me into a groove, giving me time to get back to the speed of play again. I felt great in practices, but once you step into the game it’s always so different, so I think I’m just getting my confidence, getting back to play again and playing in a higher position where I can go at people, so just starting off with that.”
Gabarra said of Dydasco, “We went to three in the back with her as one of the flank midfielders, and we were hoping that she’d link some passes together for us. But it’s tough to come into a game like that where things are flying around like crazy and players have been playing for sixty minutes. And all of a sudden you throw her in there. It takes a couple of minutes to get used to. I thought she did a good job for us.”
Dydasco also thought the team deserved more out of the game. “That’s the game of soccer. I truly believe that we deserved at least a point, if not three. We definitely dominated, had more of the better chances and the majority of the corner kicks but we just came up short on running for the ball, having that extra bite on the touches and go.”
Team captain Shelina Zadorsky had similar words: “Obviously disappointing not to come away with three points today. I think we had good moments of play where we moved the ball well in their half and really put the pressure on. I think at the end of the day we do need to find a way to put goals in, but also keep goals out. We’re still demanding more of each other and looking to put together a really strong performance on the road, which we needed to day, and I think we’ll keep learning from this and move forward.”
Boston’s Jordan Field not only has turf but turf unlike that of any other in the league. I asked Zadorsky about that challenge. “Yes, it’s tough to come in and play on turf where the ball’s bouncing. You’ve got to make sure you get your body behind it. That’s a challenge, but it’s not an excuse. It took us a little while to get into it, but once we settled we had good moments. The people who came on did well. Everyone left it all out there.”
Gabarra thinks the team is improving, at least. “Defensively, I’ve been very happy with the way we’ve been playing. Aside from a little lapse in concentration on the corner kick today, we’ve been very difficult to break down, difficult to score on, unlike some of the games earlier in the season when we were at sixes and sevens and not really organized. It’s gotten much better.”
It’s still a tough loss for the Spirit, who were looking to continue their momentum and climb the standings by building on a three-game undefeated streak. But with Boston and Houston winning, Washington is back in the cellar again, eight points out of a playoff spot with the season roughly half over.