Washington Spirit’s playoff dreams were crushed by a 1-0 loss at home last night to North Carolina Courage. Already missing head coach Mark Parsons, who was serving a yellow card accumulation suspension, the Spirit were further deflated by a red card shown to Trinity Rodman in the 23rd minute and could not regroup sufficiently to pull off a win.
Though they started slow and struggled to maintain possession, Washington put together a string of good attacks beginning in the 12th minute of play when left back Gabby Carle blew past a Courage defender to make a pass to Ouleymata Sarr near the goal. Ashley Hatch’s resulting shot across traffic was high. An interception by Andi Sullivan got them another attempt a minute later, and the Spirit seemed to be on their way to the solid performance they needed to earn a playoff berth.
Everything changed in the 23rd minute, when Rodman attempted to tackle Courage captain Denise O’Sullivan and brought a foot down on the back of O’Sullivan’s ankle. Referee Ricardo Fierro initially awarded Rodman a yellow card but ejected her from the game after VAR review.
Mere moments after Rodman’s ejection, another controversy erupted as Courage forward Manaka Matsukubo received a pass in the Spirit’s goal area that appeared to be offside. No call was forthcoming, and Matsukubo was able to make a quick cross to Tyler Lussi at the far post that was easily tapped into goal. Spirit players and fans alike called for a review, and scoreboards indicated that the goal was under review, but Fierro quickly restarted play with the Courage up 1-0. After the match, referees told reporters that VAR had not found “a clear and obvious error.”
Washington rallied after the goal, pressing high and pushing toward goal. One particularly good chance came in the 38th minute, when a cross by Sarr was kept alive and batted back towards the front of the goal by Ashley Sanchez. Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy missed her attempt to clear Paige Metayer’s first shot, but Courage defenders barely kept the ball out of the net after her second.
In the second half, the Spirit put on an impressive defensive performance. Despite being a player down and switching to an unfamiliar three-back late in the match, they held North Carolina to only two shots and no additional goals. Unfortunately, they also failed to score any themselves, giving the Courage a 1-0 victory.
- End of the line – Points in the NWSL were close enough this season that the Spirit started the game with almost everything to play for, including a first-round home game in the playoffs. Their loss combined with wins by Angel City FC and Orlando Pride saw them falling to 8th place and brought their season to an early end.
- More than just one night – A lot was riding on this game, but it’s not completely fair to blame the team missing the playoffs on Rodman’s red card or a dubious offside call. A win last week against OL Reign or a few weeks ago against Chicago Red Stars – games in which the Spirit had a high xG but failed to score – would have given them enough points to lock down a playoff spot before Decision Day. Aubrey Kingsbury had similar thoughts: “It wasn’t this game; we’ve played 22 games this season, and we’ve conceded late or dropped points here and there,” she said after the match. “So as much as it sucks … we had plenty of opportunities this season.”
- High attendance – One of the few bright spots of the evening was the crowd size. To cap off their first season fully at Audi Field, the team publicly set themselves a goal of 15,000 fans, and they beat it, announcing a total of 15,479. It’s not an all-time record for the team – they had unusually high attendance in two post-2019 World Cup matches – but it’s the highest attendance of the season and brings the home average to 10,886.
NWSL Regular Season – Game #22
Washington Spirit 0
North Carolina Courage 1 (Tyler Lussi 25′)
Washington Spirit (4321): Aubrey Kingsbury (C); Gabrielle Carle, Sam Staab, Annaïg Butel, Dorian Bailey; Paige Metayer, Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez (Amber Brooks 86′); Ouleymata Sarr (Cam Biegalski 74′), Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch
North Carolina Courage (4231): Casey Murphy; Ryan Williams, Kaleigh Kurtz, Malia Berkely, Emily Fox; Denise O’Sullivan (C), Manaka Matsukubo (Frankie Tagliaferri 79′), Narumi Miura (Brianna Pinto 90+2′); Kerolin (Brittany Ratcliffe 65′), Tess Boade (Haley Hopkins 65′), Tyler Lussi (Rikke Madsen 90+2′)
Washington Spirit: Rodman 23′ (red), Butel 87′
North Carolina Courage: Ratcliffe 67′