Last season’s cellar dwellers matched up in week 9, incredibly, in a battle to top the table (what a league!). To turn things around so suddenly, both teams went through significant organizational, staffing, coaching and player changes, and seem to have already found solidity.

The match ended 1-1, earning Gotham the point they needed to remain atop. But from Ashley Hatch taking corner kicks to Prada boots to Tara McKeown vs yet another world class striker, there’s lots to discuss. Here’s Annie Elliott and André Carlisle with five things they took away from the match:

1. V(ibes)AR

After the match, Mark Parsons, Aubrey Kingsbury, and goal scorer Paige Metayer noted that the VAR check that disallowed Gotham’s would-be second goal also came with a vibe shift. In addition to the relief of not having lost the opportunity to draw level with a goal, the 11,545 in attendance turned up the rowdy (r-Audi?) to help them seize control of the match.

“We experienced the psychology of ‘this is going to become unbelievably difficult’ and then ‘ok we’re still in this.’ But the crowd in that moment, yes it was a good momentum swing, but for us the biggest thing the crowd were incredible, they celebrated it like our goal and the players felt that.” -Mark Parsons

“One moment that stood out to me was after their goal got called back by VAR the entire stands just erupted. I think we were like ‘we got the energy now, this is our time to turn it around’ and I think we could really feel that and it was really great playing at home today for sure.” -Paige Metayer

“I’m glad I don’t have to run as much but I can tell it spurs them on!” -Aubrey Kingsbury

Parsons also noted that in the second half in particular, the crowd was “the loudest I’ve heard it this year.” First of all, pat yourselves on the back because this is the exact type of energy the #GOTOGAMES Campaign loves. If you were among the nearly 11.5K, the players are telling you straight up that you helped elevate their play and fight for an equalizer against a very good team. That’s gotta feel good. Now go share that feeling with five more people and so we can keep pushing attendance, and decibels, higher.

2. Achievement unlocked for Ashley Hatch

While the Spirit and Ashley Hatch have struggled with goals in the run of play, their set piece work has never been better. As part of that renaissance, Hatch has taken on a new role as one of the team’s designated set piece takers, typically kicking from the left side of the pitch. She’s increasingly finding success, and in this game it was her corner that gave the Spirit their equalizer.

In addition to earning an assist for her perfectly-placed corner kick in to Paige Metayer this week, her short corner to Inès Juarena also created the Spirit’s only goal against Orlando Pride on May 20. Another Hatch corner gave Washington their next-best chance to score against Gotham when she again made a short kick to Jaurena again, but who this time served it right back to Hatch for a cross. That cross found Tara McKeown’s head, but the ball flew just over the goal.

Adding a new skill to her repertoire helps both Hatch and the Spirit, giving the team a way to win games even when their attack has been stifled in open play, and surely increasing Hatch’s appeal to USWNT decision-makers in a World Cup year. There are some things to be concerned about in the Spirit’s attack, but Hatch helping construct effective corner routines is a welcome (and much needed) delight. –Annie Elliott

3. Where my shooters at

If you look at the goals table you might think this section is blasphemous. Ashley Hatch is tied with four others at the top of the goal scoring charts with five. However, her only open play goals this season were two against Racing Louisville nearly two months ago, with the other three being converted penalties.

Throughout the course of the season goals and goal droughts happen, but shot numbers can tell you a lot about whether a drought is a drought or something more and that’s where the alarm for Hatch resides. Against Gotham, Hatch had her second straight game with zero shots taken. In her last five games across all competitions she’s managed just two.

The good news is that Hatch’s shot creating actions are still among the highest per 90 on the team (3.21), only trailing Rodman (3.47) among the regular starters. However, this 442 diamond setup requires the two forwards and #10 to be absolute menaces toward goal. While Rodman and Sanchez continue to link and put up shots, Hatch is lagging way behind.

One problem is that Rodman and Sanchez are adept at creating their own shots, while Hatch is a slightly more traditional attacking option that prowls space to create lanes for service. Each player is learning a new system individually, and then collectively, so it’s possible this is a rare quirk that’ll resolve itself as spaces, timing and movements become more familiar. In fact, it probably will, but it’s worth keeping an eye on how many strikes Hatch sends at goal in the next few matches. –André Carlisle

4. Tara McKeown, CB Watch

Another match, another star forward to contend with, another solid center back performance from Tara McKeown. Lynn Williams has been one of the hottest strikers in the league, and McKeown + Staab (the Bash Bro’s) held her to .13xG across just three shots, one being off target and the other two blocked.

Overall the Spirit’s physical and aggressive defense led to just two of Gotham’s thirteen shots being on target. One was the Bruninha stunner, while the other was another attempted banger from rookie Jenna Nighswonger. All in all, Gotham’s thirteen strikes tallied just .9xG. The Bats will probably be frustrated that they weren’t more clinical, but the Spirit namely the Spirit’s defense have kept seven of their eleven opponents across all competitions under an expected goals total of 1.0.

Stalwart Sam Staab deserves a lot of praise and should start getting looks with the national team post World Cup, it remains impressive that forward turned center back is defending comfortably against some of the most dangerous attackers in the league, and in the case of Alex Morgan and Lynn Williams, the world. –André Carlisle

5. Prada x adidas x Sandman

Prada getting into sports apparel is confusing and weird but also sometimes kinda cool. In the Winter Olympics a snowboarder with a Prada board gave us this brilliant photo, and now apparently the high luxury brand is getting into soccer via adidas football. Just so happens, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez are also sponsored by adidas, so, collab time! –André Carlisle

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