Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars play to a 1-1 draw
Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe rises up and snatches the ball out of the air. | Rosa Juan - @WashingtonSpiritFan

The Washingon Spirit (1W-2D-2L; 5 points) got on the board early in this match, but the Chicago Red Stars (2W-3D-1L; 9 points) were able to make up the deficit just 16 minutes later. It was the second consecutive draw for both teams, and it allowed the North Carolina Courage (5W-1D-0L; 16 points) to extend their hold on top spot in the National Women's Soccer League standings. The game was marked by extreme physicality and weak refereeing, but after enduring 45 minutes of beratement from Spirit head coach Jim Gaberra the head ref finally found the cards in his pocket.

Quick strike and quick response

The Spirit found their footing right off the bat in this match. United States Women's National Team forward Mallory Pugh took possession and streaked down the field. She blew past the Chicago defense and cut the ball across her body and through the six-yard box where forward Francisca Ordega had beaten her mark to the post. Ordega slotted the ball into the back of the net, and the home team was ahead 1-0 after just four minutes of play. 

Over the next 15 minutes, the Red Stars found their rhythm and managed to earn an opportunity of their own. In the 20th minute, a long service nearly found the head of Chicago forward Sam Kerr, but Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe knocked the ball away. While Bledsoe was trying to recover after the collision with Kerr, Red Star forward Alyssa Mautz drove the ball into the net just past the outstretched legs of a Spirit defender. It was probably a goalkeeping error, but Bledsoe would more than make up for the error in the coming minutes.

In the 40th minute, the Red Stars took a corner kick that found the head of Kerr. The ball looped towards the goal, but Bledsoe dove backward and palmed the ball away. The Red Stars claimed that the ball broke the plain of goal, but the referee saw it differently. In the 44th minute, the Red Stars played a nearly identical corner, but Bledsoe came out early to punch it away, and the follow-up shot was blocked by a Spirit defender. With so many players for Chicago in an advanced position, Pugh was able to collect the blocked shot and streak down the field. She outran the entire Chicago team, beat the defense, but the angle was a little too tight on her shot and she pounded the ball right at Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher's chest.

A second half painted yellow

Throughout the first 45, Washington's Jim Gaberra was clearly audible on the game feed arguing with the fourth official about the number of times the Red Stars had fouled his players. Head referee Daniel Gutierrez took his words to heart in the second half as he issued three different yellow cards to the Chicago players. The first one came out early in the half when Mautz was booked after conceding two fouls in four minutes against forward Ashley Hatch and midfielder Tori Huster. Midfielder Yuki Nagasato was carded in the 83rd minute when she collided with Spirit defender Estelle Johnson, who left briefly but returned to the match. Finally, in the 91st minute, Kerr finished her Red Stars debut with a caution after a tactical foul against defender Caprice Dydasco

Washington defender Estelle Johnson had another great game and helped lock down the tie from the back line. | Photo courtesy of the Washington Spirit
Washington defender Estelle Johnson had another great game and helped lock down the tie from the back line. | Photo courtesy of the Washington Spirit

On the positive side for the Red Stars, USWNT midfielder Julie Ertz took the field for the first time in 2018 when she came on as a substitute in the 71st minute. There was some hope from the Red Stars faithful that the uniting of Kerr and Ertz on the pitch would swing the tide in their favor, but neither team was able to find the tie-breaking goal and in the end, they would split points. 

Chicago had a slightly better showing in shots on goal (4-3) and possession (55-45), but the teams were evenly matched throughout and the draw was probably a fair result.

The teams moving forward

The second-place Red Stars will have a chance to make up some ground on the Courage this week as they play at home against the Orlando Pride (1W-2D-2L; 5 points) on Wednesday evening before traveling to North Carolina to face the Courage on Sunday. It's always tough to play three matches in a week, but they have an opportunity to earn six points if they can fight through the fatigue. Having Kerr and Ertz back will certainly help.

The fifth-place Spirit will travel to Sandy, Utah to face Utah Royals FC (0W-4D-1L; 4 points) on Saturday night. Utah will be desperate for their first win, which the Spirit will be trying to ensure that they earn at least a point on the road to keep up in the early playoff race.