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Washington Spirit jump atop NWSL standings, defeat Portland Thorns FC 3-1

BOYDS, Md. — The Washington Spirit dominated Portland Thorns FC Saturday for a 3-0 victory and the No. 1 spot in the National Women’s Soccer League standings. The victory also gave Washington its first back-to-back wins since the 2016 season.

“We beat our record last year, ” defender Tori Huster said. “I think it is something to build on. We are not satisfied completely with that performance.”

Following two minutes of dominating Spirit possession, Australian national team player Amy Harrison saw an opening. Harrison slotted the ball to forward Ashley Hatch, who recorded her first goal of the season.

“The kid is brilliant,” coach Richie Burke said about Hatch. “She always puts in an unbelievable shift when we look at the data at the end of the match. She runs more than our midfielders sometimes.” 

Shorty after the opening goal, goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe made her first save of the night, stopping a close-range shot from winger Andressinha. The Thorns challenged the Spirits’ backline again with shots from Ana Crnogorcevic and Ellie Carpenter in quick succession. Portland completed 15 crosses in the first half, but the young Washington defenders managed the attempts.

“There were a few times when our backline was very disjointed,” Huster said. “I think getting pressure on the ball is definitely something that we need to work on.”

The temperature reached about 80 degrees during the match, and referee Danielle Chesky called for a hydration break in the 30th minute. The three-minute break in the waning minutes of the half turned into a longer delay when lighting struck inside a 10-mile radius of the Maryland SoccerPlex.

The lightning warning horn blew, Chesky called for play to stop in the 44th minute and the 3,049 fans in attendance exited the stands. The teams returned to the pitch minutes later with three minutes of stoppage time.

“We have a lot of younger players and for them to switch off, we don’t want to let them do that,” Huster said about the first half breaks. “It is on the veteran players to keep checking in with the younger ones and focus on the game.”

The Spirit kept the momentum in the second half. Burke said he was happy with the “spark” his team started with in the half. Rookie Jordan DiBiasi took a corner in the 47th minute. In a mess of players, defender Sam Staab headed the ball in the opposite direction of the net and it deflected off midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir for a Thorns own goal.

With six players leaving for their respective national teams, it was an opportunity for young players like DiBiasi to step up. 

“We have said to the players that this is your opportunity to come and play. I would be a little bit concerned if the spectrum of ability was really broad, but we are tight,” Burke said. “I think I can get more out of Jordan DiBiasi.” 

Portland pulled one back midway through the half on a corner. Crnogorcevic took the initial shot, which eluded the hands of Bledsoe. Forward Caitlin Foord cleaned up the shot for the goal.

With the potential for a clean sheet eliminated, the Spirit continued its offensive momentum. Forward Cheyna Matthews sped toward Portland’s Britt Eckerstrom. She drilled a shot from the left, which forced Eckerstrom to bump the ball out of bounds. DiBiasi took up her spot at the corner flag and knocked in her first career Olimpico goal to ensure the Spirit win. 

“I didn’t regularly take corners at [Stanford] and then here Mal [Pugh] was taking them before she left [for the World Cup],” DiBiasi said. “In practice, Richie always tells me to aim right under the crossbar so if you miss it goes straight in, which happened tonight.”

While the Spirit is off to its best start since 2016, Burke expects more out of his talented team. He wants to see his team “play football.” To him, that means attacking the goal and scoring more in the run of play. 

“We didn’t really play great toward the last part of the second half because we bunkered a little bit. We were in a 4-2-3-1, but they showed tactical adaptability and their willingness to battle and fight and grind out results. I was thrilled about that,” Burke said. “No matter what the score is, I want them to play football.”

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