Fittingly, the only difference between the Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit on Saturday night was an own goal.
Chicago defeated Washington 1-0 in a lackluster affair in Lisle, Ill., boosting the Red Stars closer to the fourth and final playoff spot and putting the last place Spirit (1-11-4, 7 pts.) on the brink of official playoff elimination, pending Sunday’s results.
With the win, the Red Stars (6-6-4, 22 pts.) jump into fifth place for at least a night, two points back of the Western New York Flash for the final playoff spot.
The goal came in the 62nd minute when Inka Grings redirected Michelle Wenino’s cross in the direction of Tiffany McCarty. The stand-in Spirit defender for a team depleted by injuries couldn’t properly clear the ball and it deflected into the back of the net.
Washington were without starting defenders Robyn Gayle (right knee sprain), Ali Krieger (concussion symptoms) and Candace Chapman (right knee sprain).
The disorganization in the back from the Spirit was apparent from the start. Ashlyn Harris tried to play a short goal kick to Kika Toulouse in the 9th minute, but Adriana Leon intercepted the ball at the 18-yard box and forced Harris into a big save.
Tori Huster’s giveaway in the 21st minute went right to Grings, but her ill-advised chip form 20 yards went over the bar.
The Spirit’s best chance of the game came in the 24th minute, when Conny Pohlers’ point-blank shot went right to the hands of Erin McLeod.
Chicago picked up some energy in the second half and kept Harris busy, with Lori Chalupny forcing a big save in the 61st minute, right before the lone goal of the match. Grings would have one last good chance in the 72nd minute, but she blazed it over the bar from 8 yards out.
The Red Stars had their own backline shuffle, handling it with little issue. Jackie Santacaterina stepped in for center back Taryn Hemmings, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn left MCL and a torn left ACL.