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Despite Joanna Lohman goal, Washington Spirit open 2018 with 2-1 loss to Seattle Reign FC

The Spirit pushed hard to try to come back from two goals down, but couldn’t quite get a result in their NWSL season opener

Nikita Taparia

The Washington Spirit got a goal from Joanna Lohman on her first appearance in a year, but it wasn’t quite enough to get an opening day result. Despite a valiant effort, Washington fell 2-1 to Seattle Reign FC at UW Medicine at Memorial Stadium. Megan Rapinoe and Jodie Taylor staked the Reign to an early lead, but the Spirit recovered their bearings at halftime and very nearly completed a two-goal comeback in an entertaining, frenetic game.

Jim Gabarra’s first lineup of the season contained one major surprise, as draft pick Rebecca Quinn was not included in the lineup due to visa issues. Aubrey Bledsoe, Taylor Smith, and Ashley Hatch made their debuts for the Spirit, while #1 overall draft pick Andi Sullivan made her professional debut in the midfield. Mallory Pugh and Estefania Banini joined Hatch up front in a 433, while Estelle Johnson captained the team at center back.

After a quick start in which both teams created danger, the Reign took an early lead. Allie Long won a free kick about 26 yards from goal, and Rapinoe showed why she’s a superstar, bending the ball over the Washington wall and into the upper corner to give Seattle a 1-0 lead after 7 minutes.

Washington was not deterred, with Smith slipping her former North Carolina Courage teammate Hatch in behind the Reign back four just two minutes later. With the Reign looking for offside, Hatch tried to sneak her shot past goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who did well to get a hand down low and make the save.

The Spirit continued to show some ideas and fluidity in the attack, with Smith, Banini, and Pugh all creating half-chances in the ten minutes that followed. However, Seattle really took charge of the game around the 15th minute, with Rapinoe beating Smith one-on-one repeatedly. Rumi Utsugi’s shot following a free kick was cleared off the line by Sullivan, before Rapinoe sliced a shot she would normally bury wide.

Rapinoe was in menacing form throughout the half, and it was no major surprise that she was involved on the second goal. Smith stepped up high to intercept a pass to Rapinoe, but her first touch popped up high and got away from her. Utsugi pushed the loose ball to Rapinoe in space, and Rapinoe one-timed a perfect through ball to former Spirit striker Jodie Taylor, whose shot had enough on it to carry into the goal despite Bledsoe getting a hand to the ball.

Sullivan had the Spirit’s response, blistering a long-range shot that drew a flying save from Betos, but it could have been 3-0 in the 39th minute as Theresa Nielsen picked Taylor out on the doorstep. Washington was trying to step out, leaving the England forward wide open, but Taylor headed right at Bledsoe from six yards.

Joanna Lohman completed her long road from an ACL tear in the season opener last year, subbing in for Tori Huster at halftime as the Spirit looked for a way back into the game. Washington certainly seemed energetic, forcing Seattle back and holding plenty of possession in the Reign half. Caprice Dydasco’s run up the left found Hatch in a great spot, only for Hatch to get the ball stuck under her feet. In the 54th minute, a run down the right from Pugh ended with a low cross that Lohman beat the defense to, but she couldn’t get enough on her effort to beat Betos.

Gabarra went to his bench to boost the Spirit’s attack, bringing Francisca Ordega in for Meggie Dougherty Howard. The move saw Estefania Banini move back into the midfield, while Ordega took up residence on the left side of a forward trio in the 62nd minute.

Lohman had been in the thick of the action for the Spirit since coming in, and she ended up capping her comeback from injury with a 68th minute goal. Banini and Pugh combined up the middle despite the area being flooded with Reign defenders. A quick exchange of one-touch passes ended up seeing Banini glance the ball to Lohman, who fired past Betos, off the post, and just over the goalline.

Washington kept plugging away as the game continued at a rather frantic pace. Ordega fought to win the ball along the endline in the 80th minute, lunging to poke a pass back to Hatch, who unfortunately couldn’t get her foot around the ball to get power on her shot.

The Spirit stayed on the front foot, with Sullivan forcing Betos into another good save in the 87th minute after Pugh teed her up for a 25 yard shot. Moments later, the Reign couldn’t clear due to waves of Washington pressure, only for Pugh’s eventual shot to cannon off of Lauren Barnes and out of danger.

Seattle nearly padded their lead deep into stoppage time, with Rapinoe’s shot forcing Bledsoe into a sharp low save. Washington pushed hard for one last look at goal, but simply ran out of time at a venue where they’ve generally fared much worse than a close 2-1 defeat.

The Spirit will return to the Maryland Soccerplex for their 2018 home opener next Saturday, hosting the Orlando Pride at 3:30pm next Saturday. As the NWSL Game of the Week, the match will air nationwide on the Lifetime network.

Highlights will be added when they are made available.