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Washington Spirit take down Sky Blue FC 2-0 in season opener

BOYDS, Md. — The Washington Spirit (1-0-0, 1 point) officially began a new chapter Saturday with a 2-0 win over Sky Blue FC (0-1-0, o points).

“There are so many things that are different,” Spirit captain Andi Sullivan said of 2019. “This is just a starting point, and it is only going to get better from here.”

Despite dominating possession in the first half, the Spirit went into halftime tied at zero with Sky Blue.

“At halftime, I was a little bit annoyed,” Spirit coach Richie Burke said, addressing her team’s lack of finishing.

After Mallory Pugh sent in a corner kick — the sixth of the game in the 59th minute — that caused chaos inside the penalty box, the ball popped out to the feet of Washington newcomer and centerback Sam Staab, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2019 NWSL draft. Staab put the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 Spirit lead. 

It was mostly great for the team to get the win,” Staab said. “It was just great to get that first goal and start things rolling for the season.”

Jokingly, Staab reminded her coach after the game about how a centerback scored the first goal of the season. 

“It was a big shock for me for one of our centerbacks to get a goal,” Burke said. “We will joke and laugh around in training; I always say, ‘Centerbacks are just big lumps, big defensive lumps.’ So she just reminded me that it’s not bad for a ‘big defensive lump’ to get a goal.”

Several times, forwards Cheyna Matthews, Ashley Hatch and Pugh punished Sky Blue’s defense with their speed. One of Washington’s first chances came from that speed and an ability to get behind the defense. In the 13th minute, Pugh placed a ball in toward Matthews, who caused havoc for Sky Blue’s left side the entire first half. Hatch finished the shot, but not before the line referee lifted his offside flag.

“The way that we can interchange up top, . . . it definitely allows us to be more creative and it helps me get on the ball at certain times,” Pugh said.

One of Sky Blue’s closest chances for an equalizer came in the second half when forward Carli Lloyd headed in a corner. Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe got a hand on the ball and cleared the chance out of danger.

The Spirit’s backline consisted of two rookies and a converted forward, but was able shut down Sky Blue’s offense and keep them off the score sheet.

During stoppage time, the Spirit added an insurance goal to double the lead. Pugh crossed a ball in to substitute forward Megan Crosson for the finish.

“I don’t want to give up goals late in the match, that is for sure. But I don’t want to defy our principals,” Burke said. “Whatever time of the game it is, whatever the score is, we want to score goals.”

The win kicked off Washinton’s 2019 season and put the troubles of last season officially in the past. The Spirit travel to face the Utah Royals next Saturday.

“It has been five weeks of grind and hard work in preseason, and it all came to fruition today,”Burke said. “Now we have to move on.” 

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