The Washington Spirit continued to build within their new formation and style of play to reach a new high with a 3-1 dismantling of San Diego Wave. The Spirit were in control from beginning to end, but after a goalless first half it was up to them to take the next step and get the goals to show their dominance.
A three goal second half solidified the dominance, so here’s Annie and André to share five things about the team’s most complete performance to date.
Tara McKeown vs. Alex Morgan
One of the things that makes San Diego a difficult team to get a result against is Alex Morgan. The longtime USWNT striker won the NWSL Golden Boot last season and was integral to the Wave becoming the first expansion team to make the playoffs (and were one goal away from making the championship game).
Tara McKeown, five games into a conversion from forward to center back, came up huge. Morgan eventually got a late goal after it was already 3-0, but it was one of the rare chances she was able to sniff due to McKeown’s exceptional marking. During the postgame interview and again in the post match presser, teammate Trinity Rodman took time to laud McKeown’s performance.
The numbers back it up. According to Fotmob, Morgan’s only shot was the late goal, she didn’t have a completed dribble, won just 3 of 8 ground duels, and just 3 of 7 aerial duels. McKeown has spoken in the past of her physicality as a player, whether she’s playing forward or defending. Against Morgan, McKeown refused to give her room to breathe. She was brave enough to put pressure on her tight, and aware and athletic enough to read the turn and not allow Morgan to get by. Even Morgan’s eventual late goal, she had to get off the floor to score it. –André Carlisle
After the match, head coach Mark Parsons made no mistake about how he wants his buildup play to funnel toward Ashley Sanchez. “There was a session earlier this week where we just took too long to find Sanchez, I made everyone aware ‘she’s our 10’,” Parsons revealed postgame, “she needs to be the first thought and second thought, we can get there in one pass or we can get there in two.”
In the Spirit’s last two games they’ve worked the ball to Sanchez for a total of 55 touches in the attacking third (fbref), nine more than the previous four matches combined. Versus San Diego, Sanchez also posted her highest shot total of the season (6). While she’ll be frustrated she didn’t score after Rodman pulled out a ridiculous skill in the box to tee her up in front of goal, she kept pushing to generate chances.
“It’s easy to get frustrated in those moments,” explained Sanchez postgame, “so I was just trying to keep myself composed and keep demanding the ball and taking shots regardless of the previous misses.”
It paid off.
Sanchez’s goal was an expertly curled left footed strike that floated over the head and outstretched arm of Kailen Sheridan, one of the best keepers in the league. Soccer is a difficult and chaotic game, and for chance creators plus/and/or goalscorers, goldfish memory is the best route to consistency. Wanting to receive the ball again in a position of weighted expectation without allowing the past, no matter how recent, to destabilize you is a gift. –André Carlisle
While the Spirit have looked solid on defense for most of the season, there were obvious questions about their offensive capabilities, with only four goals in open play over their first six games (including the Challenge Cup game against Gotham FC). And all of those goals had come from starting forwards Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman.
Saturday’s match was a marked improvement. The Spirit notched 15 shots from six different players, 10 of which were on target. The goals by Ashley Sanchez and Paige Metayer showed that the Spirit have more than two weapons in their scoring arsenal. Finally, they were able to convert on a set piece, which Parsons said the team have been practicing “nonstop.” The corner kick by Sam Staab and headed in by Metayer was Washington’s first successful corner of the season.
Parsons has often said that it would take 8-10 matches for the Spirit to show their true quality, and he indicated after yesterday’s match that the team isn’t quite where he wants it yet. “Today we took one or two more steps in how we’re supposed to look, and it felt really good, but it was just one or two steps,” he said, adding that they should have scored in the first half. If the Spirit we saw yesterday has as much room to grow as Parsons thinks, we’re excited to see where they end up. –Annie Elliott
Ok don’t get us wrong, we loved everything about the win and the goals. It was a completely dominant performance against a tough team with a touch coach who’s so rarely on the end of smotherings such as this. However, while most will point to Morgan’s late goal that stained a clean sheet as the only blemish, we here at The District Press disagree.
Unfortunately for us, as collector’s of exceptional vibes and viby moments, the real blemish was Rodman’s sick turn and tee up in the box not turning into a goal.
We’re ecstatic that Sanchez got her goal, but missing this hurt, because the entire move deserved to be enshrined and embedded in posts across accounts, and the world. It was so close too! Seeing it live, we thought we’d witnessed a global event, an eighth wonder of the world form before us. It wasn’t to be so, but the good news is there’s nothing about the skill, creativity and capability of Rodman or Sanchez that suggests we’ve missed out for good. In fact, it could happen as soon as the next time they’re on the pitch together. HASHTAG GO TO GAMES. –André Carlisle