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Washington Spirit Start Strong but Ultimately Fall to the Courage in First Game of 2021

The Washington Spirit opened the season with a 3-2 loss in their first match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup against the North Carolina Courage. The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup is being Presented by Secret Deodorant on Saturday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC.

The opening moments of the game were characterized by quick movements; Tori Huster sent a long ball up the field, which led to an Ashley Sanchez shot and corner for the visitors. While the Spirit failed to convert on the ensuing play, Kumi Yokoyama buried a shot from the top of the 18 less than five minutes in to give the Spirit the 1-0 lead. 

But in typical North Carolina Courage fashion, the two-time champions responded by carving through Washington’s defense. Debinha looped a pass to Jessica McDonald, who cut the ball back to Kristen Hamilton. The potent striker then tucked a shot under a diving Aubrey Bledsoe to level the contest at one. 

Four minutes after netting their opening tally, North Carolina threatened again, but Paige Nielsen did well to put Debinha under pressure, forcing the Brazilian to put her shot wide of the net. 

In the 18’, Yokoyama feathered a pass through North Carolina’s backline to Anna Heilferty but the rookie, whose touch took her in on net, pushed the shot wide. Misses from point-blank range seemed to be a theme of the first; Debinha shanked a shot wide after the ball fell to her inside the six. 

Moments after Debinha’s attempt, Carson Pickett found McDonald in behind the defense, and, thanks to a fortunate ricochet, the ball ended up in the net to give the Courage the lead. 

It took only 25 seconds into the second half for the Courage to pick up where they left off. Meredith Speck picked the pocket of Natalie Jacobs for the first shot of the second half. 

In the 51’ Merritt Mathias, who missed all of the 2020 season recovering from a left knee injury, was in acres of space on the right wing and deftly chipped Bledsoe for her team’s third marker of the outing. 

At the hour mark of the first game of the season, second-half substitute Trinity Rodman, the second overall pick in the 2021 Draft, scored her first-career NWSL goal in her debut match. Jacobs sent a long ball to Rodman, whose first touch sent the ball in front of her, and the 18-year-old fired a right-footed shot into the back of the net.

The seven minutes of stoppage time gave the Spirit a chance to equalize, and while Sanchez managed to get a look on goal, North Carolina’s composed defending preserved the three points for the hosts. 

1495 Sports is proud to bring the following Washington Spirit Post-Match Press Conference featuring Head Coach Richie Burke along with stars Trinity Rodman and Paige Nielsen:

For their second fixture of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Presented by Secret Deodorant, the Spirit will face Racing Louisville on Thursday, April 15 at 7 pm ET at Audi Field and will be broadcast live on Paramount+ (USA) and Twitch (INT).

For more information on the Washington Spirit fans are encouraged to click on the link seen here:

Washington Spirit » Professional Women’s Soccer in DC

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