The Washington Spirit stumbled its way into the NWSL playoffs Aug. 16 in spite of a 1-0 loss to Sky Blue FC in the regular season finale. Washington, 10-9-5, needed a victory to guarantee a post season spot. Since Western New York tied Chicago 3-3, the Spirit were given the fourth seed on tiebreakers.
The Portland Thorns FC upset the Seattle Reign FC to a 1-0 on an Alex Morgan tally to move into third place. Portland visits second-seeded FC Kansas City Aug. 23 in a semi-final game. Washington travels across the country to Washington, Seattle that is, to challenge the 16-2-6 Reign on Aug. 24.
Although the Spirit improved from 3-14-5 in 2013 and scored 20 more goals this year, Seattle is also on a Cinderella run. The Reign’s Kim Little leads the NWSL in goals with 16. Teammate Nahomi Kawasumia has 9. Seattle set league marks from scoring, 50, and points, 54. The club is also the stingiest in the league allowing just 20 on the season. All this from a club that finished 2013 5-14-3, just above Washington in the NWSL cellar.
Sky Blue broke through with the lone goal of the match in the 27th minute Sunday. After gaining possession, Sky Blue played the ball up the field to Kelley O’Hara on the left side. O’Hara played the ball back to create space. She then sent a ball into the box toward a cutting Maya Hayes. Spirit defender Toni Pressley beat Hayes to it and headed it away, but the carom went to Monica Ocampo. Ocampo was able to settle and volley a shot into the lower left corner of the goal.
Washington had several opportunities to tie the game before halftime. In the 34th minute, Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn split the SBFC defense to find a sprinting Tori Huster. Huster used her first touch to try and beat SBFC goalkeeper Jill Loyden with a shot, but Loyden deflected it upwards and collected before Huster could reach her.
The Spirit had another chance to even the score five minutes later. SBKF defender Caitlin Foord passed a ball back toward Loyden, but Washington forward Lisa De Vanna read the play and quickly applied pressure. She stripped the ball from Loyden, but De Vanna's touch was too strong as the ball rolled just wide right of the open net for a goal kick.