After a five-game undefeated run, the Washington Spirit fell to the Portland Thorns 4-1 on Saturday night. The Spirit conceded three goals in the first half after allowing one goal in their first four games. Offensively, the Spirit's offense came to a halt, registering only two shots on goal.
In the first ten minutes, the Spirit and Thorns played evenly and Washington forced Portland to play in a more direct style. After the initial success, the Spirit struggled to keep up with the Thorns. The Spirit's ineptitude defensively was a mix of poor decision-making, communication, and marking and proved costly for the side. Throughout the first half, combination play between Thorns veterans Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath repeatedly punished the Spirit on the flank. A high press from Portland strangled the team's attack.
At first, the Spirit withstood a barrage of shots from the Portland Thorns. Labbe made two key saves and center back Megan Oyster deflected a shot that would have gone in otherwise. But in the 26th minute, the Spirit conceded their second goal of the season. As Heath took a corner kick, midfielder Lindsey Horan took a couple steps back from Ali Krieger, opening up space in front of goal. Caught ball watching, the Spirit backline allowed Horan space to head Heath's corner kick in for the opening goal.
Five minutes later, an own goal doubled the Thorns' lead. After a throw in from Portland midfielder Allie Long, Sinclair made a leading pass to Nadia Nadim. The Thorns forward ran at Labbe and Labbe attempted to clear the ball but ended up kicking the ball into Alyssa Kleiner and the ball bounced off Kleiner and into the Spirit's own net.
The flood of Thorns attacks continued to pressure the Spirit throughout the first half. In stoppage time, Heath scored the third goal for the Thorns, bringing the score to 3-0 at the close of the half. Sinclair provided an excellent throughball right past Oyster, who let Heath collect the ball and shoot at Labbe. Heath's shot went off Labbe's hand and towards goal, Heath ran to her shot and quickly put it in.
In the second half, the Spirit managed to stay competitive with the Thorns and Washington was able to create a more potent attack. Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra replaced midfielder Tori Huster with forward Estefania Banini, sliding Diana Matheson back into an attacking midfielder spot.
Ten minutes into the second half, the Spirit scored, narrowing Portland's lead to two goals. USWNT forward Crystal Dunn beat Meghan Klingenberg and provided a curling cross from the right side. Joanna Lohman capitalized on the cross and executed a terrific header, beating goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
Despite the Spirit's increased success, Thorns substitute Meg Morris scored her first NWSL goal in the 78th minute. Morris pounced an errant pass from the Spirit midfield and beat Labbe to score unassisted.
In the closing minutes of the match, Franch stopped an excellent scoring opportunity from rookie forward Cali Farquharson.
After an abysmal first half from the Spirit, the team managed to play better in the second half. To retain their first-place spot, the Spirit will need to respond in the next two road games with the resiliency they showed in the second half. Spirit fans can take solace that while the team made plenty of mistakes, the Thorns were the rare team that punished their opponent for nearly all their mistakes.
Next Friday, the Spirit face the Houston Dash on the road. Kickoff is set for 8:30 pm, ET.