Wash­ing­ton yields late goal; playo≠ hopes in jeop­ardy


The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AARON TOR­RES aaron.tor­res@wash­post.com

In the 79th minute of the Wash­ing­ton Spirit’s match against the Bos­ton Break­ers on Sat­ur­day, a si­lence fell over the Mary­land Soc­cerPlex in Boyds. Bos­ton for­ward Adri­ana Leon, who had scored ear­lier in the game, sprinted ahead of Wash­ing­ton’s de­fend­ers and re­ceived a pass from for­ward Ifeoma Onu­monu. Leon had pos­ses­sion in the cen­ter of the box.

Fif­teen min­utes ear­lier, Wash­ing­ton had scored to take a one­goal lead. Now the out­come would de­pend on whether goal­keeper DiDi Haracic could make a save. She didn’t. Haracic slid to­ward Leon, hop­ing to pres­sure her shot, but Leon fired the ball un­der Haracic’s body, seal­ing a 2-2 tie in front of 3,722 fans.

The Spirit de­fend­ers looked for an off­side call but didn’t get one.

“It was prob­a­bly . . . five yards off­sides,” Spirit Coach Jim Gabarra said after­ward. Leon, for her part, said she thought she was prop­erly aligned.

The Spirit’s emo­tions had been so dif­fer­ent in the 64th minute. Then, Cheyna Wil­liams had scored her third goal of the sea­son to break a 1-1 tie. For much of the game, the Spirit (4-9-4) had fired shot af­ter shot at the goal. But most of its shots were saved, and a hand­ful of them hit the cross­bar.

“It’s kind of been this way all year, where we are able to cre­ate a lot of chances,” Gabarra said. “We’re kind of go­ing through that cy­cle where ev­ery bounce goes against you.”

The Spirit re­turned to its home sta­dium Sat­ur­day af­ter more than a month on the road. A sea­son af­ter los­ing in the NWSL cham­pi­onship match, the Spirit is in dan­ger of miss­ing the play­offs.

En­ter­ing its sec­ond matchup against the Break­ers (3-7-7) this sea­son, the Spirit had eight games left to try to cap­ture as many points as pos­si­ble.

Af­ter the draw, the Spirit re­mains in a tie for eighth in the 10-team league; it is eight points be­hind fourth-place Seat­tle for the fi­nal play­off spot.

Wash­ing­ton came out from the start Sat­ur­day with an ag­gres­sive­ness be­fit­ting its dire sit­u­a­tion. It paid im­me­di­ate div­i­dends — the Spirit scored in the sixth minute.

De­fender Estelle John­son fired a shot on goal, but Break­ers goal­keeper Abby Smith blocked the ini­tial shot. The ball landed at John­son’s feet, and with Smith on the ground, John­son scored to give Wash­ing­ton a 1-0 lead.

“I think that goal was just a re­ally good buildup,” John­son said. “We try to play like that all the time. Some­times we have the en­ergy to do it.”

Wash­ing­ton main­tained its as­sertive­ness, pres­sur­ing Smith to keep mak­ing saves. In the first half, Wash­ing­ton con­trolled pos­ses­sion and had a to­tal of eight shots — five of which were on tar­get.

“We should have had three or four goals in the first half,” Gabarra said.

Leon scored her first goal of the match right be­fore half­time, fir­ing a shot from the cen­ter of the box to the left cor­ner.

Nei­ther team gained much of an ad­van­tage in the sec­ond half un­til the 64th minute when Wil­liams scored off a re­bound on a shot from Este­fa­nia Banini.

Leon’s equal­izer ul­ti­mately shat­tered Wash­ing­ton’s hopes of get­ting its first win since June 24. Wash­ing­ton had a few more chances at the end and fired two more shots in the fi­nal few min­utes. But, fit­ting of its bad luck, those two shots hit the cross­bar.

“It’s hon­estly been our luck all sea­son,” John­son said. “We get so close and we just end up hit­ting the cross­bar.”

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