BOYDS, Md. — Yael Averbuch scored late in stoppage time to lead the Washington Spirit to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Chicago took an early first half lead, but the Spirit scored two goals in the second half to earn three critical points for the playoff race. Averbuch’s last-second screamer was her first goal of the season, and it was a critical one for the Spirit’s playoff hopes.
Washington has had a penchant for scoring goals late to earn points this season. When asked about her team’s tendency, Christine Nairn gave a simple answer: “I think it’s just the grit,” she said. “I said before, you’re not always going to have the best night playing soccer but control the things you can and that’s our grit, our fight, our battle. We start in the 1st minute and we end in the 94th, whatever it was today.”
In the 4th minute, the Red Stars scored off a Spirit giveaway. Christen Press was able to take away a bad first touch by Tori Huster. Press then played the ball out wide to Melissa Tancredi, and Tancredi sent the ball across to Lori Chalupny, whose slow roller dribbled past Ashlyn Harris for the early goal.
Press nearly doubled the Red Stars’ lead in the 28th minute when she picked the ball off Niki Cross and got in behind the Spirit defense. Harris was able to snuff out Press’ chance, however, to keep the deficit at one.
The Spirit gained some momentum when Chicago was awarded two yellow cards in quick succession. Jen Hoy earned a yellow in the 28th minute, followed by Jackie Santacaterina in the 30th minute.
Washington’s most dangerous opportunities of the half came in the waning minutes. In the 39th minute, Chicago keeper Karina LeBlanc came out to challenge Lisa De Vanna, but the Australian forward got around LeBlanc. De Vanna then laid the ball out to Garefrekes, who spun around and fired a shot with LeBlanc still out of net. But Garefrekes’ shot was kicked out of danger by Abby Erceg.
In first-half stoppage, Ali Krieger was fouled, earning a free kick for the Spirit about 30 yards out. On the ensuing kick, Cross’ header went just over the crossbar.
Early in the second half, the Spirit found an equalizer. Diana Matheson found Nairn about 30 yards out, and Nairn sent a shot towards goal that took a deflection off Erceg and went in, wrong-footing LeBlanc.
A minute later, Harris took a blow to the face when Santacaterina attempted to get on the end of Press’ cornerkick. After being attended to by the trainer, Harris was able to continue.
The sides traded chances throughout much of the second half but neither team was able to find the go-ahead goal. But the play between the sides heated up as the final whistle drew near. In the 89th minute, Tancredi played a well-placed cross into Press, who headed the ball towards goal. Harris made a full-extension save from close distance to keep the game level.
That save proved to be result-changing. Late in stoppage time, the Spirit found the game-winner. Nairn played long forward to Matheson, who had to slid to keep it in. Matheson then played the ball across to De Vanna, De Vanna found Yael Averbuch about 22 yards out and Averbuch fired a rocket past a diving LeBlanc.
For Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames, tonight’s loss against the Spirit doesn’t change the playoff picture much for his team. His team pushed for the winning late in the game because a tie would not have changed their position.
“I don’t think it changes a lot for us to be honest, us losing,” Dames said. “Winning obviously would have helped; we’re two points back from Portland. We always thought the race was going to be with Portland. ..I think if we wanted to tie we could of. We’ve been pretty good with that but we pushed a little bit we send an extra player into the box which is actually how we got broke on the counter.”
The approach doesn’t change for Dames’ counterpart either. Spirit Head Coach Mark Parsons said his team needs to earn points in the team’s remaining games to take advantage if Kansas City were to slip up to end the year. The Spirit currently sit 4 points off the Blues’ pace.
With the win, Washington stays in third place and moves up to 34 pts. Chicago (7-7-7, 28 pts.) is stuck in fifth, 2 pts. behind Portland for the final playoff spot. Portland plays Sunday and could make that gap 5 pts..
The Spirit will now travel to Seattle to face the regular-season champion Reign next Saturday. Chicago will also play next Saturday as they return home to face FC Kansas City.
[Averbuch goal video: H/T @kileybatchelor]
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