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Spirit foil Sky Blue, 3-1, still control Shield race

In a match delayed 16 hours due to sever weather the Washington Spirit kept pace with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Shield race with a 3-1 victory over Sky Blue FC early Sunday at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The teams waited out severe storms for about two hours on Saturday night before pulling the plug on the evening and rescheduling for Sunday at 11 a.m. With the victory the Spirit go to the Olympic break on 29 points and trailing the Thorns only on the unassailable, head-to-head tiebreaker. The Spirit though, have a match in hand on the club led by their former coach, Mark Parsons.

Estafania Banini and Cheyna Williams scored first half goals for the Spirit and Alyssa Kleiner put it away with a smashing strike deep into stoppage time. Banini put the hosts on top in the 27th minute. Whitney Church–at left back in a swap with Caprice Dydasco–sent a long ball that Katie Stengel ran down near the goal line. Stengel laid it off to Joanna Lohman who fed Banini. The Argentine made a sharp finish, burying it near post with Sky Blue keeper Caroline Casey’s momentum heading the other way at the start of the play.

Sky Blue though, got right back in the match six minutes later. Straight out of the hydration break Casey launched a ball into midfield that was flicked forward by Sky Blue. Megan Oyster went up for a header but made poor contact with Tasha Kai bearing down on her. Kai wound up behind the entire Spirit defense and was easily able to flip it over an onrushing Kelsey Wys to level the match 1-1.

The Spirit clawed back in from after another six minutes. Stengel had a key touch in the sequence when she was able to get a head on a ball in midfield to keep it moving the Spirit’s way. Banini then took on a pair of defenders before giving it to Christine Nairn who gently left it for Dydasco who was swooping in on an overlap. Dyadasco crossed to Williams who settled and turned in traffic before beating Casey for her first NWSL goal.

Kai had a chance to equalize again in the second half and her shot had Wys leaning the wrong way before the keeper alertly kicked up her legs and made the spectacular save. The Spirit eventually made it 3-1 when a bouncing ball fell to the feet of Kleiner. She settled it and uncorked a world class shot from outside the box for her first professional goal.

The Spirit (9-3-2, 29 pts) will have the shortest Olympic break of any team. They are back in action Thursday, August 18 in Houston to make up a May date that was scrapped due to storms and flooding. They could have some of their internationals back by then depending on which countries advance to the medal round. Sky Blue (6-5-4, 22 pts) saw their three match winning streak end and will spend the break three points behind the Red Stars for the final playoff berth. They will host the Red Stars out of the break on Saturday, August 27.


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