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Washington Spirit go toe-to-toe with Portland Thorns, but drop 2-1 decision

Despite plenty of chances, Washington’s NWSL winless streak extended to four at Providence Park

A familiar pattern returned once again for the Washington Spirit, who fell 2-1 to the Portland Thorns despite creating enough chances to win the game. Havana Solaun gave Washington a lead in the 58th minute, but close-range finishes from Allie Long and Mallory Weber gave the home side a win that kept them in third place overall.

Head coach Jim Gabarra made three changes from last week’s loss to Houston. Caprice Dydasco, making her first start since recovering from a torn ACL in last year’s final, came in at left back for Kassey Kallman. Kristie Mewis replaced the injured Estefania Banini, while Arielle Ship stepped in for Cheyna Williams up front.

The Spirit showed no fear of their surroundings, pressing high and eventually producing the first shot of the game as Pugh went on a dribbling run before curling a shot in that forced a decent save out of Adriana Franch. Franch had to collect a pair of crosses in the first 17 or so minutes as well, while at the other end Stephanie Labbe’s main action was collecting a simple back-header from Whitney Church.

Portland - playing more of a 343 or 3412 formation, a look they only just started to try last week - seemed more than willing to be patient and stand off of Washington. However, that came at a cost going forward, and the only look they created in the first half hour didn’t even produce a shot. Shelina Zadorsky had to produce a crucial block on Christine Sinclair after Portland picked off a pass and had Meghan Klingenberg surge into the attack for a counter.

Just before halftime, Portland had the best chance of the half for either side. Ashleigh Sykes crossed the ball in from the right, but appeared to get too much on her cross. However, it stayed in, allowing Taylor Lussi to get to the back post and nod it across the goalmouth. The ball evaded Labbe, but Church calmly side-footed the ball out of danger.

The Spirit nearly got on the board with an unconventional 48th minute corner. Mewis put a driven ball in, and it appeared to be curling into the goal before Franch punched it away despite some traffic around her. The game sparked to life from there, with Mewis nearly blocking a Franch clearance into the Portland goal in the 50th minute before Portland’s counter ended with Sinclair striking the crossbar from long distance.

The game had suddenly shifted gears at this point, with both teams able to push through the midfield and attack at a higher tempo than they’d previously managed. That eventually ended with the Spirit taking a 1-0 lead in the 58th minute. Pugh - now playing on the right wing - found some space behind Klingenberg, and she fired a low cross into the 6 yard box and behind the retreating defense. Solaun and Katherine Reynolds both may have gotten a touch, with the ball going off the post. Fortunately for Washington, it fell right on the goalline, with Solaun simply having to guide it all the way over before Franch could snag it.

The Thorns nearly got themselves level within two minutes, as a corner into the box found Sinclair. The Canadian international won her battle before appearing to graze the top of the bar with her header.

That served as a prelude to Portland’s 62nd minute equalizer. A free kick from a long way out again found Lussi, who knocked the ball down rather than going for goal. With a crowd around Lussi and Sinclair, the ball ran into a pocket of space, where Allie Long was the only player on either side within reach. Long coolly guided the ball back across the frame and in, leaving Labbe with no chance to make a stop.

Portland was in charge, but the Spirit had the game’s next two shots. Mewis skipped one wide after Johnson found her in the 68th minute, and from the resulting goal kick a very poor attempted pass from Franch was picked off by Ship, whose cross from the endline turned into a corner. Franch claimed that service and made up for her error by picking Hayley Raso out with a great throw. Raso was one-on-one with Dydasco, and cut inside before firing wide of Labbe’s right post.

The tempo didn’t let up. A Washington attack saw the Spirit hold possession for long enough that Dydasco could get forward to shoot, but her effort hit Reynolds and bounced away. Both sides made a sub, with Portland moving into the 4231 they play more regularly while Cheyna Williams stepped in for Ship up top.

A Pugh mis-kick that was neither a cross nor a shot spoiled a promising looking Washington attack in the 75th minute, but Pugh made up for it with what should have been a goal for Washington. Pugh, back on the left, torched Boureille before picking out Mewis. Unfortunately, the ball hit Mewis in the hip, and she couldn’t turn her body to guide the ball over the line.

Another Spirit attack saw Pugh cut back across the grain from a central position before trying to slip Mewis through for a point-blank shot, but the pass was just a bit too fast to be converted.

Washington would rue those misses, as substitute Mallory Weber would put the Thorns up 2-1 with her first touch of the ball. Sykes managed to break in behind on the right side, and her low cross to the top of the six yard box saw Weber just barely reach her foot out in front of Johnson to poke it past Labbe in the 80th minute.

Gabarra brought Cali Farquharson in for her first minutes since tearing her ACL last September as Washington sought a late equalizer. A Church free kick fell between Pugh and Klingenberg in the air, with the ball appearing to hit Klingenberg right in the mouth. Klingenberg went down, but with no whistle coming Pugh played on, firing from an angle only to be denied by Franch.

Washington kept pounding on the door. A stoppage time Church free kick caused chaos in the area before Williams eventually volleyed over the bar. In the 93rd minute, Solaun and Pugh nearly set Farquharson up, but the ball went just behind the second-year forward’s run into the box.

Unfortunately, the Spirit simply ran out of time, and the 2-1 defeat made it four straight games in which they had their chances to win only to end up with a loss or a draw. The defeat leaves Washington anchored to the bottom of the table, currently one point behind FC Kansas City (whose weather-delayed game was ongoing at the time of publication). After a break for the Tournament of Nations, they’ll try to get back to winning ways on August 4th with a trip to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC.