While they led Racing Louisville at the half thanks to a brace of goals by Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit ended their first away match in a 2-2 draw. Here are some of André and Annie’s biggest takeaways from the game:
Washington giving away an early lead to end up in a draw may feel like the return of a bad habit to fans. The team set a league record for most draws at 10 last season, many of them following that same disappointing pattern.
There is some reason to be concerned that the Spirit still haven’t learned how to hold onto a lead. They were obviously less in control in the second half, making more mistakes both offensively and defensively. The second of Louisville’s goals was aided by Washington’s failure to clear the ball from their goal area, setting it up to be recovered by Ary Borges (who then gave us a banger of a goal, it must be said). Offensively, the Spirit struggled to contend with Racing’s change in tactics at the half. Unable to find an open Ashley Hatch, they often settled for crosses without a clear target that were easily blocked by opposing defenders.
Still, Mark Parsons didn’t seem to think this result was a sign of more ties to come, when speaking after Saturday’s game. Parsons stressed that while the halves might feel different because of who scored the goals, he was happy with the Spirit’s performance in both. While Racing capitalized on two opportunities Washington allowed them, he said, “Second half, we carried on creating chances and opportunities and managed them to some degree apart from a couple of moments.”
The statistics also give reason to be hopeful about this performance. Despite allowing Racing to catch up in goals, the Spirit maintained a higher xG throughout, according to Arielle Dror, indicating that they remained dangerous. We’ll remain cautiously optimistic.
Paige Metayer surprises us all
Paige Metayer was an unlikely rookie to make an early splash in the NWSL. Joining the Spirit’s roster along with five other recent college players, Metayer was the only one not selected in the 2023 NWSL Draft. So it came as a surprise when she was the only one of those rookies to start – and play without a substitution – in both of Washington’s first games.
It’s clear that Metayer is central to Mark Parsons’s plan for this team. Her defensive capabilities and physicality were on full display in both matches so far. Looking just at this weekend, she led the team in blocks, progressive passes, and carries and was second in both touches and tackles, according to FBRef. While she still has plenty of room to grow her game, Metayer has already made an impact and helped the Spirit to start the season on an undefeated streak.
Unfortunately, they will have to figure out how to play without her in their April 15 match against North Carolina. Metayer picked up two yellow cards in the second half of Saturday’s game and will be suspended for one game as a result.
Nicole Douglas’s debut
The Spirit’s first overall draft pick in the 2023 draft saw her first minutes of match time as she replaced Ashley Sanchez at halftime. After the game, Parsons said Sanchez had been ill and Douglas would replace her after 30 or 45 minutes.
Douglas left college as a forward but Parsons stated on draft night that he saw her as an attacking midfielder due to her ability to break lines and keep control in tight spaces. Replacing Sanchez is no easy task, the UCLA star immediately became a Washington Spirit star, then a USWNT regular.
In Douglas’ first 45 minutes, she flashed some of the skills Parsons had spoken about. According to Fotmob, she completed 16 of 20 pass attempts (80%), completed both of her dribbles, made 3 passes into the final third, and racked up 8 ball recoveries. She also took two shots with one on target but saved by expert shot-stopper Katie Lund.
All in all it was a bright performance. Adjusting to NWSL speed isn’t easy, but Douglas showed an understanding of her role and filled in decently for one of the brightest stars in the game.
Let Trin cook
Now may not be the time for this given that in two games Rodman already has a goal and an assist. However, through two games Rodman also has only taken two shots across the two contests. Rookie forward Civana Kuhlmann, whose fourteen minutes versus OL Reign are her only minutes of the season so far, has an identical shot total.
Rodman’s goal contributions this season have been brilliant. Against the Reign she went on a darting forty yard dribble before tucking the ball into the far corner from just outside the box. Against Louisville, she received possession after a turnover, looked up, immediately spotted Hatch and played a perfect chipped pass into space for the striker to run onto and slot home.
Hatch’s chef’s kiss gesture after the goal was instant recognition of Rodman’s exceptional vision and passing ability. The sequence was also exactly what Parsons had in mind throughout preseason as he stressed the important of keeping Rodman higher up the pitch to be a direct threat in the moments after possession is won.
But therein lies the crux of the desire to see Rodman find ways to consistently threaten close to goal. If she can be a threat on the dribble from forty yards, and threat to assist from the same area, she could induce much more panic closer to the box.
Instead, apart from occasional moments, Rodman has looked to pass or cross far more than she’s looked to shoot, and not to the same effect. In her two games, Rodman has totaled seven crosses from wide areas, but has connected with none. This isn’t a knock on Rodman’s passing prowess – we know that to be elite – but it’s a sign that there are too many defenders between her and the teammate she’s targeting.
Getting Rodman closer to goal will help shorten the distance the ball has to travel to find a teammate, and allow her to add the threat of a shot to keep defenses off balance. When Rodman is closer to goal, she can also do things like this much more frequently.
In the Spirit’s championship season, Rodman totaled six goals and five assists and averaged 3.2 shots per game. Her number dipped slightly last season, to 2.8 shots per game. We’re only two games into 2023 but Rodman is currently at 1.0. While Rodman doesn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of being the team’s primary goalscorer – Ashley Hatch has been the team’s leading goalscorer since 2018 – if the Spirit are to maximize their threat to defenses, Rodman shooting must become as feared as Rodman assisting.
Let’s not forget the contributions of one Ashley Hatch, who delivered a brace of goals in the first half to put the Spirit in the lead. In addition to executing on Rodman’s perfect pass as discussed above, Hatch started the scoring out with a classic beauty in the 16th minute. After receiving the ball from Dorian Bailey, Hatch took a quick first touch to bring it to the ground, slipped past Lousiville’s defenders with her second touch, and slashes the barely-settled ball into the net at the far post with her third.
With these goals, Hatch showed why she remains a top goal-scorer in the league and a threat to opposing centerbacks everywhere. We look forward to seeing more of these throughout the season!
Lead photograph courtesy of the Washington Spirit
André Carlisle also contributed to this article.