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Washington Spirit’s NWSL playoff hopes extinguished after 2-1 loss to Chicago Red Stars

Despite a late equalizer, the Spirit fell to goals from Christen Press and Kristie Mewis

Caitlin Buckley

It was a familiar tune Saturday night at the Maryland Soccerplex, where the Washington Spirit fell 2-1 to the Chicago Red Stars. The Spirit had plenty of possession in the final third but exited the first half without a shot on goal, gave up a goal to Kristie Mewis - the player Washington just traded to Chicago - midway through the half. Despite a late equalizer from Cheyna Williams, they saw the game slip away as Christen Press scored an 87th minute winner.

“Tonight we got a lot more service into the box and got behind their line and were more dangerous. [In] the first half we were probably unlucky to not get a goal... I think the difference is, we’re not just confident and aggressive enough to get play into the penalty area,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said.

The first half never settled into a comfortable rhythm. It was choppy and physical, with the Spirit absorbing pressure from the Red Stars. Chicago had a couple close chances, but didn’t manage a shot on goal until the 23rd minute. Unfortunately, it was a good one, as the visitors took the lead. Danielle Colaprico chased down a ball in the corner, finding Mewis in the box. The former Spirit midfielder’s shot from 10 yards snuck past goalkeeper DiDi Haracic to give Chicago the lead.

For the rest of the half, the Spirit had plenty of possession in good spots, but couldn’t get a shot on goal. Crosses went through the goalmouth without any Spirit player getting a final touch, and several shots were blocked by Red Stars defenders. For a team frequently getting numbers in the final third, the Spirit still weren’t getting runners into the box to turn possession into danger.

Chicago was still able to threaten and at the tail end of the first half was able to open up the Spirit defense and get a really close chance. Yuki Nagasato appeared to have a sure breakaway, only for Estelle Johnson - playing center back due to injuries to Shelina Zadorsky and Kassey Kallman - to make up the gap and produce a huge tackle.

Estefania Banini entered for Havana Solaun at the hour mark, moving Mallory Pugh out wide. Pugh was more effective on the wing, lifting Washington’s play but not quite enough to get the Spirit back on level terms.

Meanwhile, Chicago was getting more opportunities, profiting off of mistakes and winning most of the second balls in the midfield. Despite winning so many duels, the Red Stars didn’t do a particularly good job at getting shots off. They finished the game with just four shots on goal despite controlling chunks of the game.

In the 81st minute, the Spirit finally put something on goal, and suddenly they had equalized. Pugh, from a free kick about 30 yards from goal, floated a ball towards the penalty spot, where Cheyna Williams leaped and headed past Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, tying the game with less than ten minutes left.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough for the Spirit. Julie Ertz served a long ball from the midfield in the 87th minute, picking out the USWNT’s Press, who made a diagonal run from all the way out on the touchline. Press was in behind everyone, and feinted past Haracic before rolling the ball into the open net.

Chicago slowed the game down in an effort to close the game out and while Francisca Ordega - returning from a knee injury for her first game in over a month - managed to hit the side netting in the final minute of stoppage time, the Red Stars made the lead stand up.

The loss, combined with Orlando’s win over FCKC earlier in the day, officially eliminated Washington from the NWSL playoff race. The season isn’t over though, and this Wednesday the Spirit face the league-leading North Carolina Courage at the Plex.