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Washington Spirit back to winning ways as they knock off Sky Blue FC

Ashley Hatch’s 64th minute goal settled a tense game between two teams that badly needed the points

Anya Button

For the first time in seven games, the Washington Spirit have picked up a win. Ashley Hatch scored the lone goal in the Spirit’s 1-0 victory over Sky Blue FC at home on Wednesday, while Rose Lavelle also made her long-awaited Spirit debut.

“It felt really good,” Lavelle said about getting back into action. “I was really nervous going in, because obviously I haven’t played in... about a lifetime. But it’s the same game as before I got hurt, so I just had to calm down, let my nerves settle and just enjoy the moment.”

The 74 minutes before Lavelle entered were back-and-forth, with both teams looking capable of taking the lead in the first half. The Spirit had the first big chance of the game in the 11th minute, courtesy of Francisca Ordega. Taylor Smith set up the chance by beating Amanda Frisbie down the right wing and crossing for Ordega, who played a clever first-time flick from eight yards, but her shot bounced off the near post.

Aubrey Bledsoe had an excellent first half, making three big saves. The best one of the bunch came in the 27th minute off a 20-yard curler by Janine Beckie, which Bledsoe expertly tipped away.

The ensuing corner kick fell to Carli Lloyd, but the Sky Blue captain couldn’t get much power on her header, and Bledsoe was able to collect. Bledsoe’s last save of the half was a bit of a lucky one — another curler from Beckie wasn’t handled by the Spirit keeper, but Bledsoe did just enough to force the ball wide.

Jim Gabarra opted to make one substitution at halftime, bringing Tori Huster in for Rebecca Quinn, who had a couple of turnovers that led to shots before the switch.

Hatch came alive early in the second half, putting two shots on goal before the 55th minute. Unfortunately for the Spirit, both were hit directly at Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. And in the 64th minute, she found her team’s breakthrough.

Andi Sullivan assisted the Spirit’s opener with a beautiful free kick, curled towards the center of the box from the left flank. Hatch rose up above all of the Sky Blue defenders and directed a perfect header into the bottom corner, putting the Spirit up 1-0.

When asked what she thought led to her burst of opportunities early in the second half, Hatch said that the team “talked about increasing the intensity” at halftime.

“I think that when you increase the intensity, naturally you get more opportunities to get the ball higher up the field,” Hatch said. “I think everyone increasing their intensity helped create chances for us.”

The SoccerPlex crowd got a chance to cheer on Lavelle for the first time in the 74th minute, and she got a huge ovation as she entered in place of Estefanía Banini to make her Spirit debut. Lavelle played in an advanced attacking position and looked sharp in her first 15 minutes with the club, avoiding turnovers with sharp touches and passes.

Gabarra opted to make a conservative change in the 85th minute, bringing on Meggie Dougherty Howard for Ordega, who had picked up a yellow card in the first half. The Spirit’s defense wasn’t challenged in the closing minutes and held on to seal the club’s second win of the season.

The Spirit were pleased with not just the win, but the clean sheet. “Taylor [Smith] and Cap [Dydasco] have really improved defensively,” Gabarra said after the match. “They’ve really found the proper spacing, getting in a unit with the back line.”

Hatch didn’t want to talk much about her game-winning goal, and focused on the team’s effort as a whole instead. “We all played really well as a team and individuals stepped up where they needed to,” Hatch said. “Aubrey made a couple of good saves, our midfield did a good job of finding pockets and connecting with our forwards. It was a good game, I’m proud of us.”

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC full highlights