Double goal-scorer Christine Nairn collects a throw-in from Alex Singer.
The Washington Spirit won their season home opener for the first time in team history, downing the defending NWSL champion FC Kansas City, 3-1, on two goals from Christine Nairn and one from Crystal Dunn before a packed crowd of 4,136.
Yael Averbuch took a long time to make her presence felt, but when she finally did, it really counted.
Go figure the Spirit. A couple of weeks ago with a golden chance for points against weaker teams, they went to Houston and played to an uninspired draw, followed by an embarrassing loss in New Jersey that was 4-0 late in the game until Washington rebounded with two late goals. Some fans were about to give up on the team’s playoff hopes, even wondering how much the players really wanted to make the playoffs.
But maybe they just wanted to do it the hard way. They returned home for three matches against playoff-contending teams and got points out of all three: a draw against Portland followed by comeback wins against Kansas City and Chicago – all three secured by late goals, the last in the waning seconds of stoppage time.
And if you want to see a team that wants to make the playoffs, just look at the replay of that goal. Diana Matheson runs all out for forty yards to chase down a ball before it can go out-of-bounds, then has to slide to keep it in. (“There’s maybe three players in the league that have that thought process and that quality,” said Chicago head coach Rory Dames admiringly.) She then passes it into the box to Lisa De Vanna. De Vanna – one of the most volatile and emotional players I’ve ever seen on the field – corks her emotions and hangs onto the ball until Yael Averbuch comes open to her left, then passes it to her. Finally, Averbuch – a player who’s been as much detriment as benefit to the team so far this year despite her allocated status – instead of launching a field goal sends in a rocket of a shot perfectly aimed into the upper left corner, out of the reach of a leaping Karina LeBlanc.
Late heroics have been a hallmark of the team, though. They’ve scored four goals in stoppage time, and every single one of them has been good for standings points: for a tie against Sky Blue on May 21, a win against Houston on May 26, a tie after twice being down two goals to Boston on July 2, and then Averbuch’s shot for the win. If NWSL matches ended strictly at 90 minutes, the Spirit would have 28 standings points and be in 5th place instead of 3rd.