The Washington Spirit, down significant star power with five starters training for the Olympics, started sluggish but picked up the pace in the second half Saturday night to slip past FC Kansas City, 2-0, at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.
The go-ahead goal came in the 79th minute after the pitch turned into a Slip’N Slide. Washington forward Francisca Ordega was on the receiving end of a pass when she fell inside the box. Then midfielder Joanna Lohman fell right next to her, but not before the ball bounced back to Ordega. Before Lohman could get back up, Ordega took two quick steps before driving the ball to the left of Kansas City goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and into the net for her second goal of the season.
“It was just them being opportunistic,” Barnhart said. “They got in the box and capitalized on us not clearing the ball well and maybe falling asleep. They punished us for it.”
The Spirit scored again six minutes later when midfielder Christine Nairn sent a corner kick toward the net. Midfielder Tori Huster connected on the Spirit’s second-chance attempt inside the box, blasting a shot into the top of the net for her first goal of the season.
“I roofed it,” Huster said. “I definitely roofed it. Definitely more often with my head do I score that than with my foot, but we were able to keep the ball alive, luckily it just popped right out to me. I tried to keep it high so that it was hard for anyone to clear it off the line.”
Nairn said she gave Huster a hard time, delivering an “about time, Tor,” jab after her goal.
“She’s been working really hard,” Nairn said. “It was just pure relief on her face. As a midfield, besides [Lohman], we haven’t really gotten on the board too, too much. For Tori to get something under her column, I think it’s a credit to all her hard work and determination out there on the field.”
The two goals in quick succession made up for a lackluster first half for the Spirit, which struggled early against a Kansas City team that entered on a four-game winning streak.
“I asked [Lohman] about 60 minutes in, all of a sudden she had an injection of life and a spring to her step and was winning a lot of balls, really making the pressure pay off in the final third,” Spirit Coach Jim Gabarra said. “We need to get used to playing with those players.”
“Those players” Gabarra referred to were reserves who were elevated into starting positions with five Spirit players currently training with their respective national teams in preparation for the Olympics.
One of those reserves was Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, playing in place of Canadian national team member Stephanie Labbe. Wys earned a shutout in just her second match of the season.
“I think it was awesome . . . working hard all season to finally get an opportunity tonight,” Wys said.
Three additional reserves — Caprice Dydasco, Whitney Church and Estelle Johnson — started on the back line.
“It takes some time for players filling in those roles to get comfortable and confident,” Gabarra said.
Two-time reigning NWSL champion FC Kansas City had several players unavailable as well, including four training for the Olympics and two out of the lineup because of pregnancies.