“It is very tough to play against a team that has clearly come to pick up a point. It is two points dropped not a point gained,” Spirit coach Richie Burke said. “Considering where we were in regards to the start of the season, for teams to come in here to shut up shop to try to get a point off us, I think is a great compliment.”
In the first half, the Spirit dominated the Dash with 70% possession. Burke opted for a loose 4-3-2-1 formation, playing heavily out of the back and utilizing goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe’s feet.
Despite completing 352 passing in the half, Washington attempted just one of four shots on goal.
The chance came in the final fifteen minutes of the half when midfielder Bayley Feist slotted a ball through the Dash defense to the Forward Ashley Hatch. Hatch’s shot hit hard into the arms of goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
“[Hatch] was on a nice little streak for a while there,” Burke said. “We sort of let her down a little bit today. I think she had one half chance in the first half and maybe manufactured one or two for herself in the second half, but we didn’t exactly give a great supply.”
With five players away at the World Cup, including forwards Mallory Pugh and Cheyna Matthews, the Spirit struggled in the final third. Feist, who received her first start of the season, fought through both halves of the field, but the Spirit could not find the finishing touch.
“That is exactly what we need. We were doing well, doing well, doing well, but we missed that next level,” Spirit captain Andi Sullivan said. “I think we definitely have it in us. I think we are right on that edge, so look out.”
At halftime, the Spirit honored club legend Joanna Lohman. She announced her retirement earlier this year, and on Saturday the Spirit officially retired her No. 15 jersey. It is the first time the club has retired a player’s number.
Burke made a surprise appearance toward the end of the ceremony. He complemented Lohman’s heart and said he wished he “had five more of her playing for” him Saturday.
Without the additional quintuple of Lohmans in the midfield to choose from, Burke subbed on Meg Crosson for forward Cali Farguharson in the 68th minute. Crosson acted as a second forward next to Hatch.
She quickly made an impact. She had two opportunities on net in the 76th and 78th minute, but could not breakthrough.
“[Crosson] is as honest as the day is long,” Burke said. “She is a little bit of the mavericks. She brings something that is not scripted.”
Desperate to get on the scoreboard, Burke added another attacking threat in Arielle Ship in the 86th minute for midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard.
In the final minutes of the game, the Spirit had a chance on a long throw-in from Sam Staab. The throw mirrored the opportunity of a cross. Houston easily defended the attempt with all 11 players in the penalty box.
“As the game wore on and we connected more, we started stretching them out more and making them less compact,” Sullivan said. ” At the end we were breaking them down. It was just the final third [that struggled].”
The Spirit (5-1-4) are still atop the National Women’s Soccer League table despite the draw. They host North Carolina Courage June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Maryland SoccerPlex.