The Washington Spirit were able to earn a 3-1 victory over Gotham FC in NWSL Action at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
Gotham set the tone early Sunday afternoon with two quick shots on goal. In the third minute of action, Aubrey Kingsbury made a great diving save to her left off a shot out in front before another shot in the fourth minute by Nahomi Kawasumi dribbled past a defender and into the bottom left corner of the net to give NJ/NY a 1-0 lead.
The early concession served as a wake-up call for both the Spirit defense and attack as the next 20 minutes of play saw four solid scoring chances from the defending champions. In the 24th minute, Washington knotted the score when Ashley Sanchez sent a direct free kick past Gotham goaltender Ashlyn Harris. It was the second goal of this year’s Challenge Cup for the Spirit’s leader in total shots and shots on target.
After a scary collision in the 28th minute between Kelley O’Hara and Imani Dorsey caused a lengthy injury stoppage and resulted in a yellow card for Dorsey, Gotham’s Margaret Purce fired off a shot from the left side of the box that connected with the crossbar and bounced back into play. Six minutes later, Trinity Rodman buried a lob pass from O’Hara in the bottom right corner to give the Spirit its first lead over Gotham this year.
The first half closed after a few more key plays from the Spirit on both ends of the field. In the 42nd minute, Rodman played a ball between her defender’s legs before setting up a scoring chance with a great centering pass that was cleared by the Gotham defense. A minute later, Ashley Hatch found herself on a breakaway into the box and fired a shot just above the crossbar. In stoppage time before halftime, the Gotham attacking third looked to have its best scoring chance since the opening minutes but Sam Staab blocked a shot out front to send everyone into the locker room.
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Washington almost added to its lead early in the second half as Rodman found O’Hara on a free kick for a great chance but O’Hara’s shot went wide right. In the 53rd minute, Taylor Aylmer was called for her second yellow card of the tournament, disqualifying her from next Saturday’s match in Cary. The 64th minute saw the new-named Jordan Baggett (neé DiBiasi) enter the game for her first game action of the season, replacing Anna Heilferty.
Rodman and Sanchez each had scoring opportunities over the next ten minutes before combining for Rodman’s fourth goal of the Challenge Cup in the 75th minute. Sanchez fed Rodman a centering pass from the corner of the box that Rodman punched home behind Ashlyn Harris to double Washington’s lead at 3-1 and cap off the day’s scoring.
The final 15 minutes saw playing time from Bayley Feist, Tinaya Alexander and Morgan Goff as well as Spirit alum Kumi Yokoyama for Gotham. The Spirit will travel to Cary to take on the North Carolina Courage in both teams’ final divisional match of the 2022 Challenge Cup. A win earns Washington the East title as well as a spot in the tournament semifinals while a win or tie on North Carolina’s end earns the Courage the same. Even without a win, the Spirit can still clinch a wild card berth in a semifinal depending on what happens in the Central and West divisions.
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