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Spirit roll Reign in front of record crowd at Plex

Crystal Dunn (Photo Copyright Eric McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Crystal Dunn (Photo Copyright Eric McCaulley for The Equalizer)

BOYDS, Md. — The Washington Spirit defeated Seattle Reign FC, 3-0 Saturday night in front of a franchise record crowd of 5,413 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Amanda DaCosta, Crystal Dunn and Christine Nairn all notched goals as the Spirit pulled within a point of second-place Seattle.

Spirit head coach Mark Parsons praised his team after winning by the largest margin all season. He called his side’s efforts a “complete performance” after the match.

“We’ve been striving to play soccer defensively like that and being hard to beat,” he said.

“Then, offensively we want to be a team that can build patiently and when we can break and counter. I’ve said for a while: until we beat a top team playing this style, we’re always going to be fighting to get there. Tonight, we’ve done that.”

Washington is 2 points behind league-leaders Chicago, who drew Boston on Saturday but have a game in hand on the Spirit and the Reign.

The only significant portion of the match that the Spirit did not control was the first 15 minutes. Seattle held possession for this stretch but failed to penetrate the Spirit’s defensive third. Washington had numbers behind the ball and absorbed the offensive pressure.

As the game progressed, the Spirit saw more of the ball. In the 17th minute, the Spirit recorded the first real dangerous chance of the night. Dunn danced her way around the Reign defense, and fired a shot which was deflected. The deflection fell to Joanna Lohman, who tapped it in before being called offside.

The Spirit had another promising opportunity about five minutes later when Seattle’s Rachel Corsie fouled Dunn about 30 yards from the Reign’s goal. Nairn took the ensuing free kick, which hit the crossbar and was then headed out for a corner.

Seattle regained some steam before the half, earning a free kick in a dangerous spot after a Megan Oyster foul. The Reign failed to make the Spirit rue the mistake as Kim Little’s attempt was driven right into Washington’s wall.

After a scoreless first half of play, the Spirit grabbed their first goal of the game less than a minute into the second half. Laura Del Rio received a long pass from Oyster, took off towards the end line and sent a ball across goalmouth to DaCosta, who then tapped it for the tally.

Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson celebrate. (Photo Copyright Eric McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Crystal Dunn and Diana Matheson celebrate. (Photo Copyright Eric McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Seattle responded well to Washington’s opening strike and strung together some bouts of possession. Little nearly recorded the equalizer for the Reign in the 49th minute, when the Scottish midfielder smoked Washington’s Whitney Church and rifled a shot that was just off target.

Despite Little’s efforts the Reign were unable to find an answer for the Spirit. When the Reign were attacking they often stymied themselves with balls that went harmless out of play or were easily cleared by defenders.

Dunn played a central role in the Spirit’s final two goals. In the 69th minute, Dunn and Diana Matheson combined to beat four Reign defenders. Matheson brought the ball up the field and found Dunn on her left, Dunn then got around the Reign defenders. Dunn’s off balance shot found the back of the net to extend the Spirit’s lead.

Matheson’s return to the pitch gave the Spirit a boost in the team’s offensive half of the field. Far too often Dunn has pushed forward without the support of her teammates this season with mixed results. Despite being Matheson’s first game with the team this season, the two combined well to create dangerous chances in the second half including Dunn’s goal.

Matheson’s 38 minutes were her first of the season for the Spirit after recovering from a torn ACL in October and a broken foot during recovery this spring. Her stellar return to the pitch did surprise her club coach but a conventional way.

“Nine months to deal with those two injuries, I’m not surprised because that’s who she is and her mentality,” Parsons said. “But what I’m surprised is that a human body can heal (that quickly)….I said that the beginning she’s irreplaceable. You can’t replace her. To get her back now is great always.”

For the Spirit’s final tally of the night, Nairn converted a penalty kick in the 83rd minute to all but assure 3 points for the home side. Washington was awarded the penalty after Dunn was tripped up in the box.

While the game added to the Spirit’s excellent results at home, it also continued the Reign’s road woes. All of Seattle’s three losses and all but one of the team’s three draws have come on the road. Her team’s poor results on the road have Reign coach Laura Harvey at a loss for an explanation.

“I don’t know,” Harvey replied when asked about the culprit for the team’s away results, “We’ve tried everything. We’ve changed our scheduling. We’ve changed the way we prepare but we just can’t get going away from home. We’ve got to change that because if we don’t, then we’re going to struggle.”

Seattle will need to find answers fast as they will down to Portland on Wednesday for part one of the Cascadia derby. The Spirit, meanwhile, will stay home to take on Chicago next Saturday.

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