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Washington Spirit can’t hold off Marta, Orlando Pride in 2-1 defeat

The Spirit broke a long scoreless run, but Marta’s late strike handed them their 10th loss of the season

Courtesy of Washington Spirit

The Washington Spirit finally put one in the back of the net, but under increasing pressure couldn’t hold on to their lead in 2-1 loss to the Orlando Pride. Ashley Hatch scored off a corner kick in the 26th minute, but Sydney Leroux brought Orlando level with virtually the last kick of the first half. The Spirit hit the post midway through the second half, but the Pride — who took 31 shots on the night — ultimately got their winner on a spectacular late effort from Marta.

Washington moved away from last week’s experimental midfield diamond, instead starting a 4231 that had room for Estefania Banini, who had missed two games with a hamstring injury. Following yet another lightning delay, the Spirit got to play less than a full minute before Francisca Ordega and Ashlyn Harris collided, and Ordega ended up needing to come off. She did not pass concussion protocol, and as a result was replaced by Meggie Dougherty Howard in the 9th minute.

Ordega’s exit was bad news for a team that has struggled going forward, but the more immediate concern was that the Pride were busy racking up eight shots in the first seventeen minutes. Aubrey Bledsoe was busy, including a top save to rob Marta not long after the substitution. After that opening stretch of dominance, though, the Pride slacked off a bit and relaxed.

Washington was hardly at their best, but they started to see more of the ball, and in the 26th minute, the Spirit finally broke through and scored a goal. Whitney Church sent in a corner kick that found Hatch’s head towards the back post, and Hatch’s header from 14 yards went to the unguarded near post, leaving Harris with no chance. The goal broke a 476 minute run without a goal that stretched back to a second half stoppage time goal from Hatch in May 27’s 3-2 loss in Houston.

That goal was a wake-up call for the Pride, who stepped their play up, but their stoppage time equalizer was a play several Spirit players will want back. A turnover from Banini started the trouble, followed by an aimless clearance from Church giving the Pride another chance. Alanna Kennedy fed the ball to Leroux, who beat Church before shooting low to the near post. Bledsoe got down for the block, but couldn’t stop the shot from slipping past her at the near post.

The second half started more evenly than the first half, though Bledsoe was tested by a Carson Pickett cross that nearly floated into the goal and a Marta cross that skipped off of Estelle Johnson, but on both occasions the former Orlando goalkeeper came up big against her old club.

However, the next big threat came from the Spirit in the 63rd minute. Andi Sullivan, who spent most of the game in an unusual role out on the right wing, froze Pickett before sliding a pass across the top of the box for Hatch who forced Harris into a tough save despite not getting full contact on her shot.

Orlando should have been out of danger, but a long ball from Ali Krieger was picked off at midfield by Caprice Dydasco, and the Spirit went forward again. Dougherty Howard drew three Pride players before dishing to Banini, who tried to play a return pass. Shelina Zadorsky blocked that, but the ball went right back to Banini, who scooped a shot across goal and past Harris only for it to hit the post. Dougherty Howard got to the loose ball first, but her shot was blocked by Pickett.

Orlando replied with a double sub, and Dani Weatherholt and Camila ended up changing the game. The Pride had been mostly on the front foot, but the two midfield subs made them far more dangerous and dynamic in the final third.

Moments after Rose Lavelle entered the match off the bench (her first appearance in three weeks), Orlando’s subs nearly combined for a goal in the 75th minute. The two pressured Tori Huster into a turnover, with Weatherholt taking a touch before ripping a shot into the back of the net. However, referee Danielle Chesky had blown play dead, calling Camila for a foul. The Orlando bench was livid, with one assistant being ejected, but Huster ended up needing her wrist wrapped by trainers to carry on.

Orlando channeled that anger, taking shot after shot in the final stages. Weatherholt made another dangerous run in the 80th minute, getting to the endline before picking out Leroux, whose first-time shot forced a low reflex save from Bledsoe. On the ensuing corner, Marta’s service found Kennedy, who powered a header off the crossbar before Washington eventually cleared.

Ultimately, the Spirit’s luck ran out in the 86th minute. With Taylor Smith upfield following an attack gone wrong, Church tried to settle the ball near midfield but popped it back out to the Pride. Leroux passed it to Marta, who was in more space than she’d had all night. Church was stuck one-on-one against the legendary Brazilian, who cut right and then left to shake Church before slamming a shot from close range over Bledsoe, off the underside of the bar, and in.

The Spirit pushed for a response, moving to a three-back and winning some set pieces (including one in stoppage time that Bledsoe got a head to), but in the end fell to a second straight loss. It doesn’t get easier, as this Wednesday the Spirit are in North Carolina to face the league-dominating North Carolina Courage.