WASHINGTON — After a sluggish start Saturday, the Washington Spirit held onto a point in a 2-2 draw with Reign FC in front of an announced 17,418 at Audi Field.
The atmosphere gave the Spirit a boost to take the lead in the 90th minute, but a late equalizer from the Reign forced them to settle for a point.
“I feel like this is almost worse than a lost,” forward Mallory Pugh said.
While Reign FC dominated possession with a high press in the opening minutes, the Spirit tallied the first goal.
In the 30th minute, Pugh sprinted down the left flank with two Reign defenders in tow. Nearing the endline, Pugh adjusted her hips mid-stride to loft a ball into the penalty box. The Spirit’s leading goalscorer, Ashley Hatch, headed home her sixth goal of the season.
Reign FC was quick to equalize. With a ball loose in front of net, forward Bethany Balcer capitalized on the traffic in front of goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. She slotted in the tying goal five minutes after the Spirit’s opener.
The game quickly opened up for both sides. Hatch almost found a second goal in the 36th minute, forcing Murphy to make a diving save. Balcer looked for a brace of her own, but missed twice before halftime.
“I thought we were poor in the first half,” Spirit coach Richie Burke said. “I told them that, ‘There are 17,000 to 18,000 people out there who came to support you. Why don’t you go out there and justify their appearance?’”
Before the start of the second half, the Spirit home crowd erupted into a deafening roar when Reign FC forward Megan Rapinoe sprinted on as a substitute. She quickly made an impact, running for a loose ball to start the half, but Bledsoe easily collected her early shot.
Meanwhile, Pugh continued as a dangerous asset for the Spirit. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, she sent a corner kick into the box. Murphy punched the ball out. Spirit captain Andi Sullivan volleyed the clearance toward the net, but her chance went a few feet over the crossbar.
In the 61st minute, Pugh took the ball on the counter attack. Sprinting toward goal, she nutmegged a Reign defender to cross to substitute Cheyna Matthews, who took one too many touches and sent a shot directly off Murphy and out of bounds. Matthews created four chances and took two shots in her 31 minutes played.
“She gets really frustrated when she doesn’t start, and she goes and plays like that. I don’t know how to get her to go like that from the beginning,” Burke said of Matthews. “When I don’t start her, she hates me and she gets out on the field and she plays fantastic.”
With the help of Matthews, Pugh desperately searched for her first goal of the season, but could not find the right angle with defender Theresa Nielsen tightly marking her. The extra defense on Pugh allowed substitute Chloe Logarzo to find an opening on the far post.
The Spirit took the lead in the final minute of regulation when Hatch turned the corner around two Reign defenders and flicked a ball in front of net to Logarzo, who tallied her first goal of the season.
With seven minutes of stoppage time, the Reign were quick to equalize again.
Midfielder Ifeoma Onumonu’s stoppage-time goal, which bounced through several Spirit defenders, snagged an important road point for her team. The Reign is now even on points with the fourth-place Utah Royals.
For the Spirit, a point at home is disappointing. Washington, which is six points out of playoff position, now hits the road for two more games in the next eight days against the Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash.
“We targeted the next three matches as a real mini-season for us in the hopes that we got nine points out of it,” Burke said. “This is the only home match in the stretch of three games. The next two away are going to be really big asks for us.”