The vibe in Washington Spirit's postgame huddle after Saturday's loss to the Alex Morgan-led Portland Thorns FC in front of 3,806 spectators at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds was not necessarily what one would expect following a 6-1 loss. The team was disappointed, sure, but there also seemed to be a hopefulness peering toward the future, coach Mark Parsons said.
Fourteen games into 2014 as most teams are settling into the season, Washington finds itself in a bit of a transitional period with some newly acquired athletes and players taking on new roles thanks to the change in personnel and a wave of injuries. While Saturday's fairly one-sided result wasn't the welcome the Spirit would've liked to give its newcomers, Parsons said, he was still pleased with performances from new defenders Alex Singer and Nikki Cross and speedy Australian striker Lisa DeVanna.
Washington played without starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and attacking defender Crystal Dunn Saturday; captain and central defender Ali Krieger sustained a foot injury in the first half and though she stayed on for the remainder of the period, didn't return for the second half.
“I think the vibe was, someone said, that score was one of the most embarrassing they've seen but they've never been so excited,” Parsons said.
Saturday was Washington's third consecutive loss after the team seemed to find its rhythm during a four-game win streak. The Spirit lost, 2-0, at Portland last week but both teams were missing several players due to U.S. and Canadian women's national team call-ups.
With Saturday's win, Portland (6-4-2), which trailed Washington (6-7-1) by two points in the National Women's Soccer League standings usurped Washington's fourth-place position. The top four teams make the playoffs. The Spirit, who are 0-4 against Portland dating back to last season and have been outscored 12-2 by the Thorns, now trail Portland by one point, 20-19.
“That was a big one in terms of points and making playoffs,” Parsons said. “We've got 10 games and we have to win eight to nine of them and it starts [Saturday] in Houston. We have no doubt we can make playoffs, we just put ourself in a more difficult position.”
Washington might have been better off if Saturday's kick-off was at 6:40 p.m. rather than 6:30 p.m. In what Parsons could only describe as the “craziest 10 minutes I've ever seen,” the Spirit fell behind, 2-0, quickly on goals from Canadian National Team forward Christine Sinclair (fifth minute) and U.S. National Team forward Alex Morgan (11th). Morgan, who is coming off a lengthy ankle injury and scored her first two goals of 2014 in the USWNT's 2-2 draw with France Thursday in Connecticut, finished with two goals Saturday (one in each half).
Washington recovered from the slow start and played quite well for the remainder of the first half. The Spirit created a number of scoring chances — Portland outshot Washington 20-12, 13-6 on goal — but struggled to get a good final touch or to finish. That forward momentum carried into the second half and Washington finally capitalized in the 62nd minute when Christine Nairn buried a left-footed shot right into the middle of the net.
The Spirit's sometimes inconsistent and already depleted backline held up quite well early in the second as Washington continued to press — Parsons said he was confident Washington would score again — but Morgan's second goal, in the 71st minute off a failed clear from goalkeeper Chantel Jones right to the dangerous striker's feet, seemed to sap Washington, and its fans, of all its energy and will.
To add insult to injury Morgan's substitute, Jessica McDonald, scored two quick goals after entering the game, in the 85th and 87th minute and Allie Long added a sixth score in stoppage time.
“To steal the words from one of the players, everything that could've gone wrong for us in the box did, everything that could've gone right for them in the box, did,” Parsons said. “I think we've won games playing a lot worse than that. It was one of those strange days. ... We have three new players who have done really, really well and we're excited about them. It's a shame they had to come in, in a crazy, a wild game like that. But we're excited.”