The Spirit conceded Ifeoma Onumonu’s 18th-minute goal, and after Paige Nielsen converted a penalty kick in the 89th, Silver Spring native Margaret “Midge” Purce scored the game-winner for the visitors from New Jersey in stoppage time.
Sky Blue eliminated the Spirit in the NWSL Challenge Cup quarterfinals last month in suburban Salt Lake City. The NWSL’s eighth regular season was canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In its place, the league conducted the month-long tournament in Utah and arranged a brief fall schedule through Oct. 17.
Each of the nine teams is slated to play four matches (two home, two away). The other two pods begin play next weekend.
Washington will host the Chicago Red Stars next Saturday in Leesburg, then visit Chicago on Sept. 26 and Sky Blue on Oct. 3 in Montclair, N.J. The league will not conduct playoffs. The Houston Dash won the Challenge Cup.
Before the health crisis, the Spirit had planned to play four home games apiece at Segra Field, Audi Field in the District and Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County. Next year, the organization is slated to play seven at Audi Field and five at Segra Field.
On Saturday, the Spirit played for the first time since last month’s trade of Rose Lavelle’s NWSL rights to OL Reign (Tacoma, Wash.). The 2019 U.S. World Cup standout will play for English club Manchester City for the foreseeable future.
Washington was also without four injured regulars: captain Andi Sullivan, midfielder Jordan DiBiasi and defenders Tegan McGrady and Tori Huster. U.S. national team veteran Carli Lloyd, who missed the Challenge Cup with a knee injury, remained inactive for Sky Blue. Mallory Pugh, a World Cup team member who played three years for the Spirit before being traded last winter, made her Sky Blue debut in the second half and assisted on Purce’s goal.
Sky Blue went ahead when Onumonu stripped the ball from Sam Staab and beat goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe to the near side with an angled, eight-yard shot.
Washington threatened in the 82nd minute, but Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan made a sensational kick save on Katie McClure’s bid. Seven minutes later, Nielsen put away a penalty kick after Sky Blue’s Erica Skroski took down Jessie Scarpa from behind.
In stoppage time, Pugh hit the left post and later pushed a through ball to Purce (Good Counsel) in stride behind the Washington defense for a composed finish past Bledsoe.
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