Paul Riley insisted Amanda DaCosta (near the top in this image) was offside on her game-tying goal. You be the judge.
It wasn’t the most elegant game, but then the Spirit aren’t an elegant team. This one went to the team that worked harder, and that was Washington. It was was even more of an accomplishment given that Tori Huster, their captain and one player above all who exemplifies their work ethic and toughness, was out with an injury.
The visiting Portland Thorns struck first in the 18th minute when Allie Long sent a perfectly placed through ball to Genoveva “Ayo” Añonma. Defender Megan Oyster slowed up, expecting an offside call, but Añonma continued with the play and tucked the ball into the lower left-hand corner. It was the first NWSL goal for the recently signed player from Equatorial Guinea.
Eight minutes later, Christine Nairn sent a ball over the top in the direction of Crystal Dunn in a clearly offside position, but it bounced off defender Kat Williamson and landed right at Amanda DaCosta’s feet at the top of the box. Da Costa let it bounce, then chipped it over goalkeeper Michelle Betos. It was another of the sort of breaks that the Spirit never seemed to get until this season. (And claims that Da Costa was offside seem invalid – see the screen cap at top.)
Just two minutes after that, Betos had trouble controlling a back pass, Crystal Dunn came swooping in, took it away from her, and had an easy putaway. It was roughly the nine-zillionth time the Spirit had gotten a goal off a Dunn steal, though she doesn’t usually do it singlehandedly. Dunn is now leading the NWSL in scoring and has either scored or helped score all four of the game-winning goals for the Spirit this year. Thorns head coach Paul Riley: “Crystal Dunn was exceptional. How she’s not on that plane to Canada is absolutely beyond me.”
But that would conclude the scoring. The second half would be hard-fought and scrappy, with four yellow cards issued to Portland players, two of which looked to be for professional fouls to take down Laura del Rio before she did something dangerous with the ball.
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.
It was the worst of times, not in the women’s soccer world, but in just about everyone’s world in America last week as sports receded into the background while the nation searched for two terrorists. It’s weeks like this where our games can seem so insignificant, especially when “real life” hits close enough to home that one of the NWSL games has to be postponed because the entire greater Boston metro area was in lockdown and the Breakers could not leave to get to Kansas City.
The last portion of the preceding paragraph would be preposterous just days earlier, but there we were Friday night paralyzed watching as there was at least an ending that saved us more horror. The Breakers, like the rest of Boston, were able to try to get back to some sense of normal on Saturday, although it’s understandable if it takes a little while.
And yet this weekend we were able to see the hope for the NWSL. On Saturday, Washington and Western New York played before an overflow crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex, which was in remarkable condition (and featured real live grass). A day later, more than 16,000 piled in to Jeld-Wen Field to see Portland and Seattle, and while the number was obviously stupendous, the demographics appeared almost as striking.
We love young players to attend games, as a coach of young girls, I hope this league gives them a chance to have role models and the like, but what struck me Sunday is that – while there was still a family atmosphere – it sounded, well it sounded like a professional soccer match: chants, the din actually following the play, and – yes – roses for the goal scorers.
Well, maybe we don’t see that last one around the world very much.