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Washington Spirit get late goals to down Orlando Pride in home opener

Mallory Pugh and Ashley Hatch struck late to give the Spirit their first win of 2018

Caitlin Buckley

After 80 minutes of scoreless soccer against the Orlando Pride, the Washington Spirit scored two goals in the late stages to beat the Pride in front of a near-capacity home crowd of 4,989 fans. Mallory Pugh scored the opening goal in the 80th minute, pushing the ball between Ashlyn Harris’ legs to give the Spirit their first lead of the season. Eight minutes later, Pugh sent in a cross that was poorly cleared by Orlando, allowing Ashley Hatch to fire home from fifteen yards out.

Jim Gabarra made three changes to his lineup after last week’s 2-1 loss at Seattle Reign FC. Francisca Ordega replaced Estefania Banini, who was away with Argentina for the upcoming Copa America Feminina, at left forward. First round pick Rebecca Quinn made her debut, replacing Tori Huster at the base of the midfield trio. Finally, Havana Solaun came in for Meggie Dougherty Howard.

Orlando started brightly, pressing the Spirit throughout the first five minutes, but the first chance fell to Mallory Pugh, capitalized on former Spirit captain Shelina Zadorsky’s missed interception in the 9th minute. Pugh got free on the left side of the box and beat Ashlyn Harris with a rolling shot, but the effort rolled just wide of the back post. The Pride replied with a 14th minute shot from Chioma Ubogagu that forced Aubrey Bledsoe, facing her former team, to tip over the bar.

Pugh was finding space to run, and in the 22nd minute she nearly teed Ordega up for the opener. This time flying down the right flank, she crossed low for Ordega, who beat Toni Pressley but could only one-time her shot over the bar. Less than a minute later, a strong Washington build-up ended with Ashley Hatch powering a dipping shot just over the crossbar on the turn.

Despite their good start, Washington was fortunate to escape in the 32nd minute. out of almost nothing, Rachel Hill ripped a 20 yard shot from the edge of the box that looped over Bledsoe but smacked against the crossbar. With no one lurking to grab the rebound, the Spirit cleared their lines.

Orlando, who were missing five internationals and the concussed Alex Morgan, started the second half on a strong foot and pulled off two shots within a minute, one from Ubogagu and one from Sydney Leroux. Unable to find their footing, the Spirit turned to the bench at the hour mark, with Joanna Lohman replacing Quinn. After the game, Gabarra said that Quinn had a hip issue.

Lohman added a spark to the Spirit’s attack and the Spirit started to create more. A good combination on the left flank between Ordega and Pugh nearly panned out, while Solaun’s sliced shot nearly ended up as an assist, but Lohman’s diving shot went high.

With ten minutes to spare, Washington finally broke the game open. Hatch nodded a long ball down to Pugh, who bombed forward from midfield, beating Ali Krieger and evading Zadorsky before pushing the ball between Harris’ legs to give the Spirit the lead.

Washington had another strong moment a few minutes later when a string of passes between Lohman, Ordega, and Hatch looked potent but ultimately ended without Harris having to make a save.

Orlando seemed discouraged, and in the 88th minute, the Spirit made sure they were walking off with the win. Meggie Dougherty Howard, who was effective coming off the bench to replace Solaun in the 68th minute, broke Orlando’s defensive lines with a through ball for Pugh. Pugh fired a low cross into the area, and while Washington couldn’t finish the initial ball off, the Pride couldn’t clear, and Hatch pounced to power a shot from near the penalty spot through the traffic, past Harris, and into the back of the net.

The Spirit can savor the win, as they’re off next weekend. Their next match is April 14th, where they face a daunting trip south to face the North Carolina Courage.