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Concerns surround Wambach after Flash, Spirit draw 1-1

BOYDS, Md. — Last week, the Washington Spirit gave up a stoppage time goal to settle for a draw with Boston. This week, they conceded late again, but the Spirit equalized almost immediately to earn a point against the Western New York Flash.

Saturday night’s contest was scoreless through the first 85 minutes until the Flash and Spirit each scored in less that two minutes to tie 1-1 in front of 4,569 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

Concern after the game, however, surrounded the health of Flash forward Abby Wambach, who was hit in the face by the ball at close range by her teammate, Brittany Taylor.

Wambach stayed in the game after being struck. Western New York head coach Aaran Lines indicated after the match that she had suffered a head injury and was “not doing too well.” Questions surrounded a possible concussion, but there was not immediate diagnosis given.

Samantha Kerr scored what looked like the game-winner for the Flash in the 85th minute when she headed the ball into the net from nearly on the goal line. Wambach flicked on Taylor’s free kick from 30 yards out.

But the home side tied the game less than two minutes later when Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson scored from the penalty spot after Jasmyne Spencer was brought down in the box.

Washington controlled for the first fifteen minutes of the game. During that time, the Spirit managed two corner kicks and a couple scoring opportunities. The corner kicks didn’t amount to much, unsurprisingly for the undersized Spirit.

Through the next 30 minutes, the sides were pretty even in possession. The near parity between the two extended to shots as well; Washington recorded five and Western New York had six in the half.

Although the teams had a similar number of shots in the first half, Western New York’s chances were far more dangerous. Wambach nearly scored for the Flash twice in the half. In the 18th minute, Wambach got her head on the ball inside the 6-yard box. The header hit off the crossbar and then somehow bounced away from goal. Ten minutes later, Spirit keeper Ashlyn Harris was forced to make a diving save on another Wambach header.

The Flash dominated possession in the second half while the Spirit had trouble connecting passes. On at least two occasions, the Spirit attempted to send through balls to their front runners but passes had too much pace and were collected by Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. While Western New York controlled the second half, the Spirit defense remained composed.

The second half of Saturday’s game was marred by controversy. In the 63rd minute, the Flash were on the attack and the ball came into the box, possibly hitting the Matheson’s arm. Western New York argued for a penalty to no avail. Washington would later equalize in the late stages of the match on a contentious penalty.

Prior to the scoring plays, the two teams traded dangerous opportunities. In the 72nd minute, Franch was forced to make an impressive diving save on long range shot by Spirit captain Lori Lindsey. Four minutes later, Harris intercepted the ball right before Wambach was able to head the ball at close range.

In the 85th minute, the night’s score began on a close range header from Kerr. Wambach was credited with the assist after she flicked forward Taylor’s free kick.

Washington answered almost immediately when Spencer was taken down in the box by Taylor. Matheson converted the penalty kick to tie the game.

“We fouled a little bit in the box and it’s a P.K. My job is to read it as much as possible and go with my instinct and I did,” Franch said. “I went the right direction but didn’t come out with it.”

Flash Head Coach Aaron Lines said he needed to look at the tape but stated that “from where I was standing, it looked like the ball would go away from the player.”

On a encouraging note for Washington, the teams played front of a sold out crowd. The bleachers on both sides of the field as well as the hill behind the near side goal were full. The beer garden also saw its fair share of patrons.

“We had a fantastic crowd. Some of them were cheering for Abby, so I didn’t approve of that,” Matheson said with a laugh. “But aside from that, an amazing home crowd and they were with us until the end and hopefully they come out every week. “

Lines was also impressed with the turnout. “Tonight to see a sold out crowd at the stadium here with a brand new franchise is excellent.”

Western New York will now open their home schedule Saturday, April 27, against the Boston Breakers, potentially without their hometown hero, Abby Wambach. The Spirit will stay home to take on Sky Blue FC on the same day.

The point is Western New York’s (0-1-1) first of the season, while the Spirit (0-0-2) earned a second consecutive draw to open 2013.

Key Takeaways from the game:

1) For the fourth time in five matches, an NWSL game ends as a 1-1 draw. Is this a result of the allocated players’ fragmented preseason with their club teams or will scoring be at premium for the rest of the season?

2) Washington’s young guns struggled mightily in last night’s game. McCarty did not record a single shot in the game and while Ochs contributed in other areas, the majority of her three shots were relatively tame long distance chances. The youngsters will have to be better if the Spirit hope to compete.

3) Adrianna Franch continues to impress. The rookie recorded three saves including the diving save on Lindsey’s long distance blast.

Lineups:

Spirit XI: Harris; Toulouse, Huster, Gayle, Krieger; Roberts, Lindsey, Matheson, Wells (Spencer, ’46; Hodak. ’90), Ochs, McCarty (Miller, 84′)

Flash XI: Franch, Sahlen, Johnson, Taylor, Reynolds; Yokers, Zerboni (DiMartino, ’79), Perez; Kerr (Robinson, ’90+), Martin, Wambach

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