Digest: Washington Spirit falls to Western New York Flash on penalty kicks in NWSL championship

The Washington Post
“We were so devastated because we had the game,” captain Ali Krieger said.

Deep into extra time — and deep into stoppage time of that 30-minute extra period — the Washington Spirit conceded an equalizing goal in the National Women’s Soccer League championship game Sunday.

The result of the impending penalty kick tiebreaker felt like a foregone conclusion.

And so after coming within 30 seconds of its first title, the Spirit fell to the Western New York Flash in the shootout, 3-2, following a 2-2 draw through regulation and overtime before an announced 8,255 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Crystal Dunn scored the second of her two goals in the first of the 30 extra minutes, but Lynn Williams, the league Most Valuable Player, answered in the dying moments to force penalty kicks.

“We were so devastated because we had the game,” captain Ali Krieger said. “We were sitting pretty. We were strong. We were confident.”

“To give away a goal like that,” midfielder Christine Nairn (Archbishop Spalding) added, “it’s hard to comprehend right now.”

In the tiebreaker, Sabrina D’Angelo stopped three of Washington’s five attempts. With her team trailing 3-2 in the fifth round, Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys kept hope alive by saving Samantha Mewis’s bid. But D’Angelo dived to her left to thwart Diana Matheson’s attempt as the fourth-seeded Flash won its first title.

Dunn, the 2015 MVP and rising U.S. national team star, had scored just two goals during a regular season interrupted by call-ups and the Olympics. But she put Washington ahead in the ninth minute. Mewis celebrated her 24th birthday with the equalizer five minutes later.

After the stirring start, the teams exchanged half-chances up to intermission. Opportunity dried up in the second half. Neither side budged. Rhythm was elusive. Passing faltered. Set pieces provided no relief.

But the match buzzed to life in extra time on Dunn’s goal and continued at a hectic pace.

Dunn collected Krieger’s pass unmarked just inside the penalty area and lifted an exquisite 16-yard shot into the near top corner. Washington then repelled threats for what seemed like eternity. But in the dying moments of extra time, Jessica McDonald sent a high ball from the left side into the heart of the penalty area. Wys came off her line. Williams rose between Nairn and Alyssa Kleiner and nodded the ball before the keeper arrived.

“My initial instinct was [Wys] didn’t need to come,” Spirit coach Jim Gabarra said. “You take your chance of [Williams] beating a defender or two. … It’s good to have a goalkeeper that is confident coming off her line. I guess she felt like she could win it. … At the end of a match, players make a mistake when they are fatigued, and maybe that’s a mistake she made at the end there.”

Said Wys: “Maybe there was something I could’ve done differently.”

Sunday’s final capped the fourth NWSL season, the longest for a U.S. pro women’s soccer league after a pair of three-year failures (WUSA 2001-03 and WPS 2009-11). Commissioner Jeff Plush said the league has received several inquiries about expansion next year, a topic to be discussed at a board meeting next week. Additional teams are almost certain by 2018.

This year, the NWSL enjoyed a 10 percent increase in regular season attendance (5,558 average), despite no momentum from the U.S. team’s Olympic effort, which ended abruptly in the quarterfinals. Expansion Orlando set a league record with 23,403 for its home debut. Portland averaged 16,945 over the regular season — better than four MLS clubs — and drew 20,008 for a semifinal. Seven of the 10 NWSL teams, however, averaged fewer than 4,700.

The Spirit was the league front-runner most of the summer before fading at the end and settling for second place behind Portland. An extra-time triumph over Chicago last weekend in its first home playoff lifted Washington to its first title game.

Buoyed by an extra-time thriller against Portland, the Flash rode into the final with the league’s top attack. Gabarra altered his formation to disrupt the Flash’s rhythm, and for the most part, Washington was successful.

Opportunities flowed at the start.

The Spirit struck in the ninth minute. Megan Oyster played a well-weighted, 40-yard ball over the backline. Dunn turned on the burners and beat the charging D’Angelo to the ball at the top of the penalty area, chesting it forward. Before two retreating defenders could provide cover, Dunn one-timed a tight-angled shot into the net.

The lead lasted all of five minutes. Williams squared the ball to Mewis, who juked Nairn and placed a 23-yard shot into the lower right corner.

Gabarra turned to Matheson for a boost in the 81st minute, but extra time seemed unavoidable. The match snapped out of its doldrums at the start of the bonus period. After Dunn’s tiebreaking strike, the Flash attacked with urgency and menace, putting the Spirit on its heels in the box. Washington counter-punched with several threats.

All went according to plan for Washington until those last excruciating seconds.

“That’s obviously the worst feeling ever,” Dunn said, “knowing you are about to win.”

Krieger, Tori Huster and Matheson failed to convert their penalty kicks.

“It’s a difficult loss,” Gabarra said, “and it’s going to be very difficult for us for a long time.”

Wheelchair racing

Tatyana McFadden wins record seventh Chicago Marathon

Tatyana McFadden of Clarksville defended her title at the Chicago Marathon, beating Switzerland's Manuela Schar by one second in 1 hour, 42 minutes and 28 seconds for her sixth straight victory and seventh win at the event, making her the most decorated champion in race history.

McFadden, an Atholton graduate who won four gold medals and two silvers at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro last month, claimed her 19th World Marathon Majors win to set herself up for a record fourth straight grand slam if she wins in New York (in 2013, 2014 and 2015, she won four majors in the same year: Boston, London, Chicago and New York).

For the fourth straight year, Schar finished second to McFadden. Three-time winner Amanda McGrory of Savoy, Ill., finished third in 1:47:55.

Et cetera

Gaels guard Morsell has Maryland in his final three

Mount Saint Joseph senior guard Darryl Morsell, one of the Baltimore area's top players, narrowed his list of college choices to three. Maryland, Notre Dame and Dayton made Morsell's latest cut, while Villanova and Virginia Tech were eliminated from consideration. The All-Metro first-team selection has officially visited all three finalists, meaning a decision should come sooner rather than later. The Terps are considered the favorite, with all five "Crystal Ball" predictions on 247Sports.com picking Maryland. Morsell helped lead the Gaels to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Baltimore Catholic League title games last season, averaging 10.6points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He is considered a four-star recruit and is the No.114 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Jonas Shaffer

NHL: Braden Holtby made 24 saves to lead the host Washington Capitals over the New York Islanders, 4-0, in a preseason game. Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored for the Capitals, and Ovechkin also had an assist. Ovechkin's goal came on the power play and was his first this preseason since returning from playing for Team Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. Defenseman Brooks Orpik had two assists. Jaroslav Halak allowed all four goals on 27 shots for the Islanders.

College football: Frostburg State junior wide receiver-kick returner Russell Neverdon (Calvert Hall) was named New Jersey Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.

Men's college soccer: Midfielders Nick Tait and Juwan Kearson (St. Paul's) scored in the first half to lead St. Mary's College of Maryland (9-2-1, 3-1 Capital Athletic Conference) to a 2-0 win over Marymount (2-8-2, 0-4).

Women's college soccer: Penn State (9-2-3, 5-0-2 Big Ten Conference) scored three goals off corner kicks for a 3-0 victory over host Maryland (3-11-1, 1-6-0). … Saint Francis (Pa.) (4-10, 2-10 Northeast Conference) scored in the eighth and 71st minutes to earn a 2-0 victory over visiting Mount St. Mary's (4-7-1, 0-2).

Women's college volleyball: Freshman outside hitter Gia Milana had a career-high 21 kills, but visiting Maryland (8-10, 0-6 Big Ten) fell to No. 21 Michigan State (15-3, 4-2) in four sets on Saturday night, 25-16, 22-25, 25-20, 25-17.

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