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Washington Spirit’s scoreless run continues in 2-0 loss at Chicago Red Stars

Washington’s rut continued as the Red Stars largely controlled play

Caitlin Buckley

Washington’s goal-less stretch continued on Sunday evening in Chicago as the Washington Spirit fell 2-0 to the Chicago Red Stars. Casey Short’s header was directed in by Meggie Dougherty Howard in the 34th minute, and after two near-misses for Washington, Yuki Nagasato’s spectacular diving header in the 60th minute consigned the Spirit to yet another defeat.

Still dealing with injuries and attempting to break a run of four games without a goal, Jim Gabarra sent his team out in a 4-4-2 diamond. Rebecca Quinn played at the base of the midfield, with Tori Huster and Andi Sullivan supporting Dougherty Howard, who got the start in the attacking midfield role.

The change did not put Chicago off, and they quickly took charge. Within the first minute a miscommunication between Whitney Church and Aubrey Bledsoe saw Bledsoe arrive late to claim a loose ball, which popped out of her grasp as she collided with Michele Vasconcelos. Sam Kerr had an open net, but her hurried shot was blocked by Church.

The Red Stars went closer as Vasconcelos’ shot from distance hit the crossbar in the 13th minute in one of a series of close chances for Chicago. Chicago had the Spirit pinned into their own defensive half for long spells, and it wasn’t until the half-hour mark until Washington looked at all comfortable.

Despite the Spirit’s increased momentum, Chicago got on the board in the 34th minute. Washington conceded a corner kick, and Short rose up above several players to power a header towards the back post. Dougherty Howard seemed flummoxed in her effort to block the ball, which appeared to hit her, hit the post, and then hit her again before rolling over the line.

In the final minutes of the half they had been second-best in, the Spirit was unlucky to not score. Hatch had a shot from distance that deflected just over the bar. Off of the ensuing corner kick, Alyssa Naeher couldn’t get to the service, and Hatch headed towards the unguarded net. Summing up the last month or so for Washington, though, the ball ended up hitting Francisca Ordega, who had no chance to get out of the way, and Chicago escaped.

The positive momentum carried the Spirit at the start of the second half. In the 49th minute, Church served another corner into the box that, in all the chaos, was handled by Nikki Stanton. Referee Sergii Demianchuk did not give the Spirit a penalty kick, leaving Washington exasperated. Asked after the game by Chicago’s pool reporter, Demianchuk stated that in his opinion, “Although the ball hit the hand, it was not in a deliberate manner as it was quickly deflected off Stanton’s knee and her arm was in a natural position.”

While the Spirit were the aggressors to start the second half, they weren’t quite able to create chances from open play. Meanwhile, Vasconcelos sent a cross that Caprice Dydasco missed but fortunately for the Spirit, Alyssa Mautz’s shot was wide.

At the hour mark, Chicago killed the game off with a superb team goal. The Red Stars won the ball in their defensive half and found Vasconcelos in a pocket of space between the Spirit’s backline and midfield. She fed Kerr, who used her first touch to escape Church and take it to the left wing. In space, Kerr crossed it to Nagasato, who launched herself at the ball for a diving header that flew past Bledsoe to make it 2-0.

Chicago had the firm upper hand from that point on and were sloppy in failing to widen their lead. In the 70th minute, Taylor Smith was caught up on the Spirit’s right flank trying to attack, and Vasconcelos managed to get through with runners to either side, only to be stopped by Dydasco in a close call for the Spirit.

Gabarra pulled a defender, Church, to add Tiffany Weimer to the frontline, moving Quinn to center back and shifting into a 4-3-3. Chicago replied by bringing Morgan Brian in for her first appearance since leaving Lyon. Brian’s entrance helped the Red Stars remain in control for the rest of the game. Bledsoe was busy despite the scoreboard pointing to Chicago staying deep, denying a late Kerr shot among other efforts.

The loss extended some miserable runs for Washington, who have not scored in five straight games, with their last goal being Hatch’s stoppage time strike in Houston on May 27. The Spirit are also on a six-game winless run for the second time this season. Washington has two more games during this road trip, the next coming on July 7 against the Orlando Pride.