Recap: Racing Louisville FC 0, Washington Spirit 1

In the second game of the 2021 Challenge Cup for both teams, the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville combined for a first half of disjointed play and a second half of sustained pressure and attractive play, and finally, in stoppage time, a goal by Ashley Sanchez to take a deserved three points.

What the first half lacked in chances, it made up for in wind and misplaced passes. The preseason nature of the tournament made itself apparent, as few players on either side were standing out. The exceptions for the Spirit were Tegan McGrady and Ashley Hatch. McGrady, playing as a wingback, created the most dangerous opportunities beating Erin Simon down the line and serving in crosses. Ashley Hatch looked lively, showing for the ball more than her teammates and being more physically dominant than either of Louisville’s center backs.

The Spirit had their first chance in the 23rd minute, a move starting with a run by Tori Huster on the right wing, getting in a cross resulting in a blocked shot by Hatch, bouncing out to Dorian Bailey who shot the ball over the goal. Louisville had a good deal of possession in the Spirit’s end, but were repeatedly unable to find the final ball.

The second half started brightly for the Spirit, aside from a giveaway by Soari Takarada almost resulting in a goal by Yuki Nagasato. Huster and McGrady combined to give Louisville trouble on the right side, but a clean chance remained elusive. Richie Burke moved to a 4 man backline, and there was immediate improvement in ball retention and chances created. While the Spirit still wait for the national team players to all return, the stability of this formation seems to suit the personnel.

Ashley Sanchez had a number of chances early in the second half, shooting the ball at the keeper each time, but was clearly much more engaged playing out wide in the 4-3-3. Julia Roddar, moving into the midfield in the second half, played with confidence and strength, creating a number of chances and helped the Spirit pressure the Racing goal.

The Spirit turned up the pressure in the middle of the second half, with chances saved by Sanchez, Hatch and McGrady in succession. Racing looked much more like the expansion side they are and struggled to cope with the Spirit going forward. Trinity Rodman had multiple chances in the last few minutes of the game and continues to look like a serious player and experienced beyond her young age. Her partnership with Hatch will be exciting to watch as she continues to improve tactically.

The Spirit continued to turn up the heat on a tiring and under pressure Racing backline, finally breaking through in stoppage time. Tori Huster dribbled through midfield, pushing the ball out to the right wing to Rodman, who lofted a cross into Ashley Sanchez, who struck the ball past Michelle Betos and sealed the win for the Spirit.

The Spirit return to play on the 21st against the Orlando Pride.

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