Leesburg, Va. — Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Washington Spirit found themselves in a predicament. After an early attack by forward Tara McKeown in the 2’, the Spirit were on the defensive when NJ/NY Gotham FC forward Midge Purce earned a free kick just outside the top of the box. Spirit defender Sam Staab was shown a red card on the play and exited the game in the 7’.
Down a player for what ended up being the final 92 minutes, the Spirit put up a valiant effort, holding the lead for more than 10 minutes in the first half and keeping things tied up until the final 15 minutes of the second half, falling in the shorthanded effort, 3-2, on July 18 at Segra Field in Leesburg.
“It’s always a hard adjustment, because you never expect to lose someone in the first 5-10 minutes,” Spirit defender Tegan McGrady said. “I think we did a good job shifting the way that we did and going into a different formation.”
After Staab was disqualified, Washington quickly shifted into a 4-3-2 as captain Andi Sullivan dropped onto the backline, leaving the Spirit’s young, athletic strikers on the attack.
“We didn’t take any of our attacking players off to defer to defensive-minded players,” Washington head coach Richie Burke said. “We stayed very much in attack and had some really good chances.”
The Spirit’s first good chance after going down a player came in the 13’ when Sullivan played a ball over the top to forward Trinity Rodman on the left flank. Rodman proceeded to bury a shot past the Gotham FC keeper as the Spirit took a 1-0 lead.
“[Rodman] was brilliant today. She was very, very good. That goal was superb,” Burke said. “She’s dangerous when she gets the football, she runs at people, and they’re scared of her. She’s quick, she’s tricky, and she’s got a really good football brain, so I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s been playing.”
With a 1-0 lead, and playing with just 10 players, the Spirit kept their foot on the gas, trying their best to keep Gotham FC on the defensive.
“Our first mindset was still to go and try to get the win,” McGrady said. “We were thinking our offense was going to be our best defense and that as long as we could keep them thinking about our attacking threats that we could get the front foot in the game.”
In the 24’, Gotham FC forward Naho Kawasumi scored on a rebound off a corner from defender Caprice Dydasco to even things out. Gotham FC once again took advantage of the man-down situation on a set piece in the 35’ as midfielder McCall Zerboni scored on Dydasco’s corner to give NJ/NY a 2-1 lead at the half.
Coming out of the locker room, the Spirit were ready to roll as forward Mariana Speckmaier entered the match and earned a free kick in the 56’ just outside the box. Spirit midfielder Ashley Sanchez took the free kick and beat Gotham FC’s wall and keeper to tie things back up for Washington.
“At halftime the talk was about winning the game, not getting back into the game. Even at 2-2, we could have been a little bit more cautious and shut up shop,” Burke said. “We’re dangerous when we go forward because we have players who are quick and travel well with the football, so we didn’t want to just sit and concede. Rodman’s goal was brilliant and the free kick from Sanchez was first class.”
Unfortunately, playing a man down for more than 90 minutes proved to be the difference as Purce—who had earned the free kick that sent Staab off early on—found an opening in the 75’ to give Gotham FC the advantage and, ultimately, the win.
The Spirit are back in action when they travel to Kentucky to play Racing Louisville FC at Lynn Family Stadium on July 25.