Washington Spirit earned one point at home Sunday evening in a hard-fought draw with NJ/NY Gotham FC, keeping them in the top half of the NWSL standings at 16 points while their opponents jumped back into the lead with 17.
Gotham controlled the pace and possession for the majority of the first half, outshooting the Spirit 6 to 1. After a reset at the half, Washington battled their way back into the game, equalizing with a header by midfielder Paige Metayer.
- Set piece success – The Spirit have been working hard to improve their set piece performance, and it shows. Including tonight’s goal, they’ve scored from set pieces in 3 of their last 4 matches. Their defense is equally strong, preventing Gotham from scoring on any of their 11 corner kicks in this match.
- Passing is still a problem – Particularly in the first half, Washington were easily dispossessed by Gotham, with Spirit passes often placed directly in the path of opponents. Things improved in the second half, but the Spirit ended the match with a 65 percent pass accuracy rate. Low accuracy has been a recurring issue this season, and the high tempo imposed by Gotham FC made that issue more apparent.
- Home field advantage – Though they’re no longer undefeated this season, the Spirit have yet to lose a game at home, where they played in front of 11,545 fans last night. Speaking after the game, Spirit head coach Mark Parsons spoke warmly about the crowd, calling it the loudest he’s heard all season and attributing some of the team’s success to the effect it had on the players. That advantage will be put to the test, as the Spirit play their next 3 games at Buzzard Point.
NWSL Regular Season – Match Day 9
Although Metayer sent a promising cross into Gotham’s goal area in the 2nd minute of the game, Gotham goalkeeper Abby Smith beat forward Ashley Hatch to the ball, the first sign of a strong performance from the Gotham keeper that would continue throughout the match.
Easily in control in this half and playing at a fast pace, Gotham saw results in the 23rd minute. Forward Taylor Smith, playing 2-v-1 with a pair of Spirit players just to the left of Washington’s goal area, drove in towards the center and made a short pass to Bruninha at the top of the box. The Gotham defender dribbled into an opening and took a powerful right-footed shot over the heads of three Spirit defenders. The ball hit the crossbar but bounced down into the goal, putting Gotham FC in the lead.
Though the Spirit had a short burst of energy just after the goal, Gotham quickly regained control and closed out the half ahead. Speaking after the match, Parsons joked that the team bus had dropped him and the Spirit players off late, preventing them from arriving until the second half. Parsons praised Gotham’s pressing, pace, and ball skills and said the Spirit had “respected their pressing a little bit too much in the first half” and allowed Gotham to open the pitch up, making it hard for Washington to gain control.
When the second half began, it seemed that the Spirit were in for more of the same, until Gotham put the ball into the net a second time. The goal was quickly put under VAR review for a handball and eventually called back. The effect on the Spirit, Parsons said, was “huge.”
“I think we experienced the psychology of ‘this is going to become unbelievably difficult,’ and then ‘OK, we’re still in this,'” he said, “But the crowd in that moment… the crowd were incredible, celebrated that like our goal, and the players felt that.”
The Spirit had also adjusted tactically at the half, moving some midfielders higher to find openings and try to pull Gotham out of their shape, Parsons said.
In the 68th minute, forward Trinity Rodman earned her team a corner kick by driving into the box and forcing a Gotham defender to block a shot out behind the goal. Hatch took the kick, placing the ball in the middle of the goal area, where Metayer won her aerial duel and headed it directly into the goal.
Play was even after the equalizer. Both teams relied on substitutions to try to infuse new energy into the game and pull out a win and both had multiple chances but were unable to find a second goal. The match ended with a barrage of Gotham corner kicks, but with the stadium echoing in a chant of “Rise up, DC,” the Spirit were able to defend their goal and end the game in a 1-1 draw.
Washington Spirit 1 (Metayer 69′)
NJ/NY Gotham FC 1 (Bruninha 23′)
Washington Spirit (442): Aubrey Kingsbury; Sam Staab, Tara McKeown, Gabby Carle, Dorian Bailey; Inès Jaurena, Andi Sullivan, Paige Metayer (Marissa Sheva 74′), Ashley Sanchez (Nicole Douglas 85′); Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch (Lena Silano 74′)
NJ/NY Gotham FC (433): Abby Smith; Ellie Jean, Ali Krieger (C), Bruninha (Kristen Edmonds 83′), Jenna Nighswonger (Ali Long 75′); Nealy Martin (McCall Zerboni 83′), Yazmeen Ryan (Ifeoma Onumonu 74′), Kristie Mewis; Taylor Smith, Delanie Sheehan (Nahomi Kawasumi 87′), Lynn Williams
Washington Spirit: None
NJ/NY Gotham FC: Nighswonger 62′, Onumonu 89′
Featured image courtesy of the Washington Spirit