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Washington Spirit comeback falls short in 3-2 loss to FC Kansas City

Mallory Pugh made her first pro start, but it wasn’t enough for the Spirit

Amy Kontras/ISI Photos

Despite a 70th minute red card to FC Kansas City midfielder Alexa Newfield, the Washington Spirit couldn’t muster enough of a comeback, falling 3-2 in the team’s second loss to FCKC in two weeks. Kristie Mewis scored a goal in the opening minutes to put Washington ahead, but Sydney Leroux’s brace and a Becky Sauerbrunn goal pushed the Blues to a 3-1 lead.

In the 70th minute, Newfield collected a second yellow card following a collision with Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. Labbe was treated on the field but played on. After Newfield’s red card, Spirit substitute Havana Solaun scored to make the game 3-2, but time ran out on Washington’s attempt to level the scores.

Mallory Pugh started on the left wing, but other than that head coach Jim Gabarra made no personnel changes from last week’s 1-0 loss to FCKC, sticking with a 4-3-3 formation.

The Spirit have had some trouble starting games off at their best this year, but things looked bright initially thanks to a 4th minute goal from Mewis. A Spirit corner fell into the mixer, with neither team able to get a clear touch on the ball. Following a scramble, the ball popped loose to Mewis - who had taken the initial corner kick - and she fired a low shot through traffic and in to give Washington an early lead.

The lead wouldn’t last, as just four minutes later Leroux equalized. Brittany Ratcliffe ran in behind and drew both center backs before passing to Leroux, who was at full speed and running at Estelle Johnson. Leroux’s first touch pushed the ball past Johnson, and Leroux won a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge to get to the ball first and roll it past Labbe.

Newfield earned what turned out to be an important yellow card for a tackle on Line Sigvardsen Jensen in the 16th minute. A few minutes later, FCKC had a goal waived off. Leroux headed it in the box to Shea Groom, who pushed a defender and then scored from about a yard out. The foul was called as the ball was crossing the line.

The trio of Cheyna Williams, Katie Stengel, and Pugh worked very well particularly in conjunction with Mewis. However in the 20th minute, Williams got injured in a collision and eventually exited the match a few minutes later. The Spirit have struggled with injuries all year, and had already entered this match without key midfielder Tori Huster (right quad strain).

Defensively, the Spirit looked disorganized, and Kansas City took advantage to make it 2-1. Groom’s pressure just outside the box allowed her to poke the ball away from Whitney Church, and Groom won the race to the resulting loose ball. The two fell, though, allowing Leroux to take a touch and score from about 15 yards out.

After Williams exited, Ordega replaced her up top, but the Spirit were less successful offensively from there. The team struggled to register shots on goal and some of that was due to issues in the midfield and backline, not just up top. Pugh was effective when she got the ball, but she wasn’t getting a lot of service. Alyssa Kleiner often stepped up from her spot at left back which helped the attack.

Becky Sauerbrunn scored what turned out to be the game-winner in the 60th minute from a corner kick. Ratcliffe served it in on the left side and sent a swinging ball to the back post, where Sauerbrunn ran in and headed it over everyone, with the ball going back across goal and in to make it 3-1.

Havana Solaun replaced Sigvardsen Jensen in the 66th minute as the Spirit pushed for a second goal. A couple minutes later, Mewis fed Pugh for a shot from outside the box that was blocked by FCKC. It was a rare second half look for Pugh, who wasn’t seeing much of the ball as time wore on.

In the 70th minute, Newfield collided with Labbe and earned her second yellow card. Labbe needed several minutes of treatment but stayed in the game while FCKC went down to 10 players.

Arielle Ship replaced Katie Stengel as Gabarra tried to spark a comeback with his subs. However it was his first sub, Solaun, who brought the Spirit within one. Ordega fed Solaun around 25 yards out. In a pocket of space, Solaun fired a hard low shot that took a deflection off Yael Averbuch’s foot and went past goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart in the 83rd minute.

Despite having an additional player, the Spirit couldn’t create an equalizing goal. Solaun had another long distance shot, and then in stoppage time she sent Ordega through on goal for what looked to be the equalizer. Ordega finished the chance, but the referee ruled Ordega offside; nonetheless, Ordega took the ball and ran it up to the midfield line, not realizing the goal had been called back. Play resumed from Kansas City’s defensive half.

That wasn’t Washington’s last chance. Solaun had a header that went wide and Pugh created a nice opportunity that ended up in a shot over the goal, but the seven minutes of stoppage time ended with FCKC hanging on for the win.

Next week the Spirit (1-5-1, 4 pts) will face the Houston Dash (2-5-0, 6 pts) at the Maryland Soccerplex. Kickoff is set for 7:00pm.