Washington Spirit vs. OL Reign: Four Takeaways
The Washington Spirit took on OL Reign Sunday at home, beating them 2-1. Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch scored for the Spirit, with Rose Lavelle being the lone goalscorer for the Reign. Here are four takeaways, one positive and one negative for each team:
1. Anna Heilferty: The Power of Confidence
While it would be tempting to write about this strike from Ashley Sanchez or rave about Washington’s dynamic attacking core of Sanchez, Hatch, and Rodman, one player deserves kudos this match: Anna Heilferty. Typically used as a utility player last season, Heilferty has finally settled into a starting role in the 2022 Challenge Cup, generating plenty of positive ball movement and goal-scoring chances. This match, however, she had swag. She notched an assist on the Sanchez goal with a cheeky backheel. She almost scored herself at least twice. The Anna Heilferty of last season was a solid player when called upon off the bench, but this season’s Heilferty is proving to be a confident, consistent presence on the starting lineup.
2. Phallon Tullis-Joyce
That’s it. That’s the positive takeaway for the Reign.
All jokes aside, Tullis-Joyce was the obvious standout on Sunday for the Reign, making an absurd 11 saves in total. If she had been having an off day, the scoreline could have easily read at least 5-1 in favor of the Spirit. It’s safe to say Phallon Tullis-Joyce is a goalkeeper to look out for this season, even in the pool of fantastic goalkeeping talent of the NWSL.
3. Spirit stop conceding penalties challenge
Including the Challenge Cup, Washington Spirit have conceded three penalties in 2022. The regular season started on Sunday. While it appears that referees are giving more penalties overall this season, the Spirit’s calls were all obvious fouls in the penalty box, no ifs, ands, or buts. The Reign were given a penalty kick in the seventh minute as a result of Spirit defender Camryn Biegalski’s poor tackle of Ally Watt in the box. Luckily for Washington, Aubrey Kingsbury saved the resulting kick by Rose Lavelle, but the Spirit could have gone down by one by the tenth minute. The Spirit defense needs to be more careful in the box, as careless errors could prove to be the difference in maintaining their unbeaten streak.
4. Playing with fire can extinguish the Reign
The Reign’s high press is both their most important tool and worst weakness. As demonstrated in the Challenge Cup, their high press allows them to force turnovers and poach goals, but it also leaves a massive amount of space for their opponent. Unfortunately for the Reign on Sunday, their high press is ultimately what allowed Sanchez and Hatch to strike. Take the Sanchez goal for instance: Reign’s defenders were caught so far up they had to sprint back to goal. By the time they reached Sanchez, the ball had already left her boot. While a high press is not necessarily a poor game plan (especially with the quality of players Reign has), they must think more carefully when dealing with teams who also play aggressively like the Spirit.
Given that these two squads play each other again on Wednesday in the 2022 Challenge Cup semifinals, each team can use this match as means for growth and improvement before the next time they face off.