Washington Travel to 8th-place Louisville after shorthanded loss

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: July 24, 2021

Washington Travel to 8th-place Louisville After Shorthanded Loss

The Washington Spirit, after falling 3-2 to NJ/NY Gotham FC in a shorthanded effort, will travel to Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, KY to take on Racing Louisville FC. 

10-Player Spirit Falls to Gotham at Home

The Washington Spirit brought the fight to Gotham FC on Sunday, but faced too many obstacles as the New Jersey-based club defeated the Spirit at home, 3-2. 

The Spirit were put on the back foot early on at Segra Field in Loudoun County, VA when center-back Sam Staab was issued a red card in the seventh minute for a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity after fouling Margaret Purce just steps outside the penalty area. Like some other red cards throughout an NWSL season in which referee decisions have ranged from controversial to baffling without transparency from the league, the validity of Staab’s red card was called into question by many. Washington appealed the decision successfully as the league’s Independent Review Panel determined Staab did not in fact deny a clear and obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Staab will not serve a match ban and is available for selection on Sunday. 

In his post-game press conference last weekend, Burke declined to discuss the decision, citing fines and punishments given to players and coaches across the league who have spoken out about the league’s quality of refereeing so far this season. “I don’t want to get in the habit of talking about referees, I don’t want to get in the habit of discussing decisions that they make, because it’s very difficult to do that,” said Burke. “So I’d rather talk about the things that we can control. The players played today, very, very happy with the majority.” 

Despite playing the bulk of the match with 10 players, the Spirit were the first to break through for an early lead as rookie forward Trinity Rodman bagged her third goal in five games. Midfielder Andi Sullivan provided the assist, finding Rodman on the wing with a long ball up top and letting the rookie find space to shoot. The team is continuing to monitor Rodman’s fitness relating to the back spasms she’s been experiencing. 

“If she starts to have the back spasms come back a little bit again, she gets fatigued, so we have to bring her off,” said Burke.  “But she was great. The goal was superb, absolutely superb.”

Not a manager known to bunker down and play conservatively, Burke opted to preserve his side’s attacking mindset despite the early red card. Burke said that he told his team at halftime that the objective was not merely to stay in the game, but to win it. 

“It’s well known that our team is very attacking minded, no matter what the circumstances are,” said defender Tegan McGrady. “I think it was probably like we were thinking that our offense was going to be our best defense in that game and as long as we could still get forward, make them think about our attacking threats and think about still going forward, that we could honestly get on the front foot on the game.”

The lead did not last for the Spirit however, as Nahomi Kawasumi tapped in a corner kick just 11 minutes later. Gotham controlled many of the opportunities throughout the rest of the half and took a 2-1 lead courtesy of McCall Zerboni’s header off a cross by Caprice Dydasco. 

The Spirit were able to equalize in the 56th minute, when Ashley Sanchez rifled in a direct free kick after several of her long-range efforts were stymied in a win over the North Carolina Courage the weekend prior. The equalizer marked the first career free kick goal for Sanchez, a forward-turned-midfielder for Sunday’s match to cover for Tori Huster, who was left out of the match seemingly out of caution after picking up a knock in the North Carolina game. 

“I haven’t really been working on [free kicks], but I think going off of last game, I got really close, so I felt confident to hit it this game,” said Sanchez. “And it went in, so it was awesome.”

Ultimately, Gotham’s numerical advantage was too much to overcome as Purce found the winner in the 76th minute. Despite dropping three points, Burke and the players available to the press praised the team’s effort in giving Gotham a fight despite being down a player for over 80 minutes. 

“I mean it’s always a hard adjustment to make, you’re never expected to lose someone in the first 10 minutes,” said McGrady. “I honestly think for everything that we did, we did a fantastic job of shifting the way that we needed to play, going into a different formation and kind of just doing everything that we could. I think we kept them on their toes a lot and I think we actually possessed a lot considering how much we were down and really were on the front foot, even, for a little bit.” 

Spirit Hit the Road to Face Expansion Louisville

Expansion side Racing Louisville FC will play host to Washington this Sunday after their bye week. Louisville’s last match, a dramatic 1-1 draw that saw Orlando draw level deep into stoppage time, placed Louisville in eight place with a game in hand, four points under Washington who are currently seventh. A parity-filled season has meant that only eight points separate first-place Portland and Louisville. A win for Washington would potentially lift the Spirit back into playoff position. 

Racing, led by former Sky Blue FC coach Christy Holly, have had an uptick in performance recently as they’ve continued to build out their roster, with English transfers Gemma Bonner and Ebony Salmon providing more skill and depth to the young side. Over the past week, Louisville have added one final piece of the puzzle from overseas in the form of Dutch international Nadia Nadim, a global giant in the women’s game who has most recently featured for Paris Saint-Germain, scoring 21 goals over three seasons. According to Holly, the forward will be available for selection for the first time this season and will certainly see game action. 

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how Christy Holly’s been able to integrate and train her into their tactics this week,” said Burke of Nadim.  Whether she starts from the beginning or comes in off the bench, either way she’s going to be a factor and we need to pay attention to it.” 

The two sides have met already this season, as Racing were able to get one in the win column against the Spirit at home in late May. Louisville was on the defensive for most of the match, but were able to find two goals within five minutes toward the very end of the match to seal the three points. Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos also stymied the Spirit with 10 saves. Burke said that that loss still “rankles” Washington, who felt they deserved more out of the match. 

“For long stretches in that match, we were dominant and didn’t deserve to be down in any way,” said Burke. “But this team is a different team. And I think they’re a little bit more dangerous and a little bit more organized than they were previously.” 

Midfielder Tori Huster is questionable for the match with an oblique injury according to Burke, while Rodman continues to progress with her nagging back spasms issue. The match will be something of a duel between young, promising forwards on both teams. Washington’s core of youngsters including Rodman who are enjoying breakout seasons on the frontline will be measured against Louisville’s Salmon. Salmon, the 20-year-old striker from Bristol City, has scored three goals in her five league appearances. 

“There’s a really good young crop of players coming into this league that make it exciting,” Burke said. “If they can continue to grow and continue to be impactful, that is going to be great to watch. Hopefully there’s going to be lots of goals, just not against us.” 

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Image Source: Washington Spirit

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