After Thrilling Comeback, Spirit Set Sights on Red Stars

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: July 2, 2021

The Washington Spirit keep finding ways to win. 

The club, who have a date with the Chicago Red Stars Friday night at Segra Field, showed their resolve last Saturday, gritting out a 2-1 win over Kansas City. Two rookies, Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman, once again wrote their name on the score sheet late in the game after a poor start saw them down 1-0 at halftime. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry with my football team at halftime ever before,” said Spirit coach Richie Burke after the stoppage time tally from Rodman sealed the victory. “And I think that showed. Emily Sonnett, with one last dig before she heads to the Olympics, just said to me, ‘It had nothing to do with your halftime team talk. We took it on ourselves,’ [laughs]. And I’d like to think that’s the case.” 

Whoever may or may not be responsible, the result was a win all the same, and an important one for the Spirit at that. The Spirit, with two wins and two draws out of their last four matches, held serve near the top of the league table with a third of the season played. They are currently fourth due to goal differential, and just three points separated from Orlando at the top. The positive contributions from Sanchez and Rodman continued a remarkable start to the careers of the rookie forwards, who have vaulted the Spirit into a team of real contenders.

“We’ve learned an awful lot of important lessons at this young stage,” said Burke in his press conference ahead of the Chicago matchup. “And we’re still not firing on all cylinders, we’re still not where we really want to be. But given the challenges that we’ve had and given the obstacles we’ve had to overcome, I think it’s put us in a really good place to move forward, and propping us up a little bit.” 

The task at hand for Washington is now a home match against Chicago. The Red Stars are enduring a less positive run of form, taking three losses out of their last five matches. The 8th-place Red Stars also have to deal with the absences of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger, and forward Julie Ertz (who has been injured and not been a factor so far), who will be representing the United States at the Olympics, and are currently engaged with the USWNT for a send-off series with Mexico. Krueger is an alternate but will be travelling with the team to Tokyo. 

The Spirit have some Olympic-related roster hiccups of their own due to the NWSL declining to pause play to accommodate the tournament, particularly on defense. The aforementioned Sonnett will be unavailable, as will Kelley O’Hara. Sonnett’s absence leaves a hole at the center back position. (Karina Rodriguez, a recent signee on defense, is not yet available as she will be joining La Tri USWNT’s send-off series.) Burke also noted Camryn Biegalski, a 22-year-old defender he says can line up at multiple positions. At center back, Burke said Sonnett will likely be replaced by Paige Nielsen, who returned from injury last week after not appearing since May. Burke does not doubt Nielsen’s fitness, to put it mildly. 

“[Nielsen] is a strong, tough character,” said Burke. “If I don’t pick her I think we might have a wrestling match and she might well kick my ass in that wrestling match, so chances are she’s gonna play in the game tomorrow … We have contingencies in place, and we have some ideas of how we’re going to set up. It’s how [Nielsen] manages the turf field and that heat in out in Loudon. That’s going to be an interesting one for us to deal with.” 

Washington will take on the Chicago Red Stars at Segra Field on Friday, July 2 at 7:30pm. The match will be broadcast free of charge on the NWSL’s Twitch channel. 

For more NWSL coverage from Venus Sports, click here.

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