The complexion of the game changed early, when a turnover left Purce coming in alone on Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Spirit defender Sam Staab pulled Purce’s jersey from behind, right on the edge of the penalty area. Staab was shown a red card, but the referee determined the play happened just outside the area despite Gotham’s protests. The Spirit survived the ensuing free kick, but its defense was short for the next 83-plus minutes.
A few minutes later, Trinity Rodman gave the hosts a 1-0 lead on a counterattack when the ball landed at her feet. She took a couple of dribbles with her right foot and struck a shot from just inside the box that glided past the outstretched arms of Gotham goalkeeper DiDi Haracic.
Gotham kept pushing, however, producing nine corner kicks on the night. The first to be converted came in the 24th minute, when a rebound off a save from Bledsoe ended up at the feet of midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi, who tied the game at 1.
Gotham’s second goal around 11 minutes later came a lot cleaner than the first. The pass off the corner from Gotham defender Caprice Dydasco found unmarked midfielder McCall Zerboni, who delivered a header for a 2-1 lead.
Ashley Sanchez brought the Spirit level in the 56th minute, but Purce’s goal in the 76th was decisive.
“It’s always disappointing to give up two goals on set pieces, and it’s something you wouldn’t expect from us normally,” Spirit defender Tegan McGrady said. “We may have gotten a little bit confused and there was an open runner on the second one that no one was picking up. ... It’s something moving forward that we will not have a problem with again.”
Even down a player, the Spirit didn’t adjust tactics. Coach Richie Burke opted to stay aggressive, keeping his attacking players in instead of adding more defensive-minded players and sitting back.
Despite the loss, Rodman, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NWSL draft, continued to be a bright spot. The goal was her third in five games.
“She was great,” Burke said. “She’s dangerous. Every time she gets the football, she runs at people. They’re scared of her. She’s quick, and she’s tricky, too. ... I couldn’t be happier.”
Short a player, the Spirit struggled to maintain possession, keeping it for just 39.1 percent of the time. Sanchez made the most of her opportunity off a free kick, slotting her shot in the bottom right corner to level the score. But the Spirit couldn’t find another equalizer after Purce’s late goal.
Even with the loss, the Spirit (4-3-3) remained positive. The team travels to expansion side Racing Louisville next week, seeking to avenge a loss from earlier in the season.
“We did a fantastic job of shifting the way that we needed to play, going into a different formation and doing everything that we could,” McGrady said.