During a crucial match Wednesday in Cary, N.C., Washington scored once in each half and then turned away several sparkling chances down the stretch to beat North Carolina, 2-1, and move a point ahead of the Courage in the congested NWSL standings.
After the game, the Spirit players kept their focus on pushing for change in the NWSL. The players from both teams met at midfield before the game in a moment similar to the statement made midgame a week earlier. And earlier in the day, the players’ association and the league agreed to push back the deadline for meeting the players’ demands.
Wednesday evening brought a rescheduled matchup after the league paused play for a weekend amid outcry from the players about its inability to protect them from coaching misconduct, leading to the resignation of commissioner Lisa Baird.
“Four games in 12 days and we’re mentally having to process things that have been happening for so long but that finally reached a breaking point,” said Washington midfielder Tori Huster, the president of the NWSLPA. “… I don’t think we should have to do that, but we are doing it. With some of these things that we are demanding and asking for change within the league, they’re going to take a bit of time, and we want to make sure they’re done properly.”
Ten minutes after surrendering a tying goal, the Spirit (9-7-6) had the right player in the right place at the right time. Julia Roddar, a first-year midfielder from Sweden, entered at halftime. In the 70th minute, she stood at the edge of the 18-yard box for a corner kick, and a deflection from the goalie landed at her feet.
For her first NWSL goal, Roddar threaded a perfect shot through traffic. Still, a win against North Carolina (9-8-5), which has won the past three regular season titles and the past two playoff championships (before the pandemic-shortened season of 2020), required 20 more minutes of solid defense and a bit of good luck.
One minute before Roddar scored, the Courage replaced Meredith Speck — who had tied it in the 60th minute — with Amy Rodriguez, putting her with Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald on a talented front line. Three minutes after she entered, Rodriguez put a shot on target, and Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe stretched for the save.
Two minutes after that, McDonald hammered a point-blank shot off the upper-right corner of the goal frame. Williams had a follow-up opportunity, but again Bledsoe dived for the save.
In the 88th minute, a dangerous cross rolled through the Spirit box without being touched — and moments later Washington celebrated its second straight win as it improved to 3-0-1 in its past four.
The Spirit struck first in the 39th minute. Tara McKeown sent a cross into the box for Ashley Hatch. When Hatch collided with a defender, the ball bounced to rookie Trinity Rodman, who drilled it off the left post and in for her fifth goal. Washington lost its lead when Speck beat Bledsoe to the right post and finished a loose ball. But Bledsoe made six saves as the Courage put seven shots on goal to Washington’s four.
After entering Saturday’s win over Racing Louisville just outside the playoff picture — six clubs in the 10-team league make the postseason — Washington finds itself in third place after back-to-back wins and the Houston Dash’s surprising loss at Kansas City on Wednesday. The Spirit visits OL Reign on Saturday in Tacoma, Wash., before closing the regular season against Houston on Oct. 31 at Audi Field.