The Washington Spirit scored a smorgasbord of long distance bangers in their 4-2 win over Orlando Pride. While the goals were incredible, and made the Spirit the first team in NWSL history to score four goals from outside of the box in a single game, there was a lot more to the strikes than hit and hope.
We’re going to take a look at every goal, and how the Spirit got the right player in the right space at the right time to threaten goal from deep (I’m also including expected goals [xG] and post-shot expected goals [PSxG] numbers, because the variances are ridiculous and reveal the S-tier quality of the strikes).
Goal #1: Lena Silano (.04xG, .21PSxG)
Lena Silano’s first professional goal was a seeing eye shot that arrowed along the grass from just outside the box on the near side and into the far side netting. It was a terrific setup and strike, but before all that, the sequence began after 15-year-old Chloe Ricketts drew a foul in Orlando’s defensive third.
Ricketts dribbled into midfield and laud the ball off to right back Camryn Biegalski, and continuing her run. Biegalski had time and space to pick her pass and found Paige Metayer tight to the touchline, who first timed a pass into space for Ricketts. Her run was tracker by an Orlando defender, so instead of forcing something or risking a turnover, Ricketts held the ball and rode the pressure until going down after enough contact to draw a foul.
From there, Sam Staab had an opportunity to whip the ball into the box. Nicole Douglas fight for a header and the ball deflects out to Marissa Sheva, whose shot is blocked but straight to Silano. From there, it was all striker’s instincts.
Silano notices a compact defense rushing toward her and shifts the ball from her left to her right and shoots, all in one motion. The speed of thought and execution were key to beating an already panicked defense and taking the keeper by surprise with a well angled and well placed shot.
Goal #2: Sam Staab (.04xG, .50PSxG)
The free kick that broke physics and Twitter. Staab’s outrageous jaw dropping strike is already a contender for goal of the season, and will be extremely hard to beat. Curling the ball in from that far out, to the far post, is one of those things that makes you flip through a thesaurus for a more worthy descriptor. It was simply pulchritudinous.
Staab got the opportunity to come forward for another free kick because the Spirit’s high press forced three quick decisions from Orlando. After the keeper rolled the ball to a teammate in her own box, Civana Kuhlmann starts to press directly before shading her run to block the wide pass, forcing a pass back to the keeper. Silano then closes hard on the keeper forcing a clipped pass wide to the player Kuhlmann initially prevented the Pride from finding. Metayer reads it and darts to the ball, getting their first and forcing a foul (the speed with which Metayer covers the ground between her and the ball is incredible).
From there, Staab breaks out the wand otherwise known as her left foot. This wasn’t a mishit cross or “shross,” every measurement was intentional and executed perfectly. I laughed when I heard someone even ask the question “Did she mean it?”, I felt like that Shaq meme applied and that they simply weren’t familiar with Staab’s game. Every angle is worth watching, then watching again. And again. One more time. Just kidding do it again. Actually, go ahead and replay it forty-six more times.
Goal #3: Marissa Sheva (.01xG, .58PSxG)
This was a hell of a strike, full stop. It’s incredible that the shot had the lowest xG before it was struck, but the highest after contact. Sheva took a shot that had a 1% chance of finding the back of the net and turned it into a 58% chance. That’s truly, genuinely absurd, and I’m not sure we’ll see a 1% chance reach a similar or higher PSxG all season.
To get the opportunity, Maddie Elwell, Staab and Ricketts did good work down the Spirit’s left side.
Staab sends a clipped ball to Elwell who’s tight to the touchline, unmarked. She drives forward and attempts a cross but it’s blocked and bobbles between her and the Pride defender. Her quick closing down forced the defender to recover and boot the ball out of play rather than being able to comfortably take possession or find a teammate.
From there, Ricketts receives the throw-in, does well to maintain balance as she’s being pressured by two defenders, and spots a gab to flick the ball through where Sheva was waiting, in space. One of my favorite things about this sport is when players let the ball do the work. Sheva doesn’t take a touch to settle the ball before hitting the shot, instead she waits for it and uses the time to pick her spot and decide on the strike she’s going to use to get it there.
Goal #4: Sanchez (.06xG, .25PSxG)
This goal was fun because it was naughty. After suffering the three bangers above, Orlando had two goals of their own and were pushing for a chance at an equalizer in second half stoppage time. Before this sequence, Washington had been dribbling to the corner and fighting off Pride players to eat up clock and keep them as far away from Kingsbury’s goal as possible.
The frustration showed when the ball finally squirmed loose and the Pride booted it forward. From there, the Spirit continued their bullying with a smother press. Count the number of Spirit players are packed in, cutting off passing angles and pressuring the player with the ball.
A quick switch or a bit more composure under pressure could have led to a heart-in-mouth moment for the Spirit. But pressing isn’t always about taking the ball, it’s about forcing bad decisions, which are sometimes just as good. In this instance, the ball was quickly played forward, intercepted by the Spirit and sent forward again, but a Pride player getting their boot on it meant it would no longer be a goal kick if it crossed the line, so their keeper scrambled out to keep possession.
From there, more pressure forced a hopeful punt and Spirit debutant Riley Tanner stepped in front to steal possession and touch the ball toward Sanchez. (Tanner subbed in at halftime and her five tackles won and one interception tied her with Paige Metayer for Spirit player with the most combined tackles and interceptions.) Once Sanchez had the ball at her feet with the keeper out of goal, the entire stadium could smell the team’s fourth of the night.
However, it wasn’t as simple as hitting an empty net. The keeper covers a lot of ground, and if the shape of the shot hadn’t carried the ball toward the far netting it most likely would have been saved. But it wasn’t, and the Spirit became the first NWSL team to score four goals from outside of the box in the same game.