The Washington Spirit won 1–0 in their second match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Presented by Secret Deodorant on Thursday night at Audi Field in Washington, DC.
The first minutes at Audi Field saw the first and second overall picks in this past year’s draft go toe-to-toe — Trinity Rodman charged at Emily Fox in Racing Louisville’s half and nearly won the ball high up the field.
After holding the ball for the first four minutes, the Spirit ceded possession to the visitors, who won an early corner and put Aubrey Bledsoe under pressure in net. It was all Racing with a high pressure for the next five minutes as the Spirit failed to keep the ball.
Washington got their first quality look on goal in the 14th minute; Rodman found Ashley Hatch at the top of the box, but the ensuing shot was off target. With Louisville mounting pressure, rookie Emina Ekic took a point-blank shot, but Bledsoe was alert to the danger and deadened the shot before catching it.
The Spirit began to show signs of life in the 24’. Tori Huster found herself guarded on the wing but jinked by her defender and put a low cross into the box. Hatch whiffed on her shot, Rodman saw hers blocked and Natalie Jacobs blasted her attempt over the frame.
On the stroke of halftime, Hatch put in a looping header that easily cleared Michelle Betos in net. The chess match continued through the first 45, with Washington holding a narrow edge in possession — 53% to Louisville’s 47%.
Things picked up in the early stages of the second. The Spirit got a look from a free-kick taken by Tegan McGrady into the penalty area that Hatch found the end of, but the attempt ended up in the hands of Betos. Louisville answered quickly with forward Yuki Nagasato was through on goal, but a combination of Bledsoe’s quickness off the line and Paige Nielsen’s positioning behind forced Nagasato into a tough shot that spun wide.
The Spirit were given a set piece just outside the 18 in the 54’ but an mistimed run saw the home side flagged for offside, ending the opportunity to break the deadlock. Following the offside call, Rodman drove at Louisville’s back line and found Ashey Sanchez open in the box, but the UCLA product couldn’t generate enough power to trouble Betos in net. Minutes later, Sanchez again ripped a shot, though former Spirit defender Brooke Hendrix foiled the attempt.
A halftime adjustment to a 4–3–3 unleashed one of Washington’s strengths: speed up top. Chances started falling to Rodman, Sanchez and Hatch, all of whom struggled to generate offense in the first half. In the span of 15 minutes in the middle stages of the second, the three combined for five scoring chances.
In the 87th minute, Sanchez took the ball into the final third and found Rodman on the left wing, who cut in, lost her defender but powered the ball over the net. Louisville would counter with a shot on target in stoppage time, and the score might have favored the away side had it not been for a strong toe save from Bledsoe.
With Bledsoe doing her job in net, the offense did theirs up the field — Huster weaved away from her defender and hit a diagonal pass out wide to Rodman, who hit a cross into the box. After improving throughout the game, Sanchez, who was open in front of goal, hit a one-time shot that bested Betos for the Spirit’s first three points of the season.
For their third fixture of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Presented by Secret Deodorant, the Spirit will face the Orlando Pride on Wednesday, April 21 at 7 pm ET at Exploria Stadium and will be broadcast live on Paramount+ (USA) and Twitch (INT).
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