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Despite Haracic’s heroics, Washington Spirit drop 1-0 decision to Utah Royals FC

A 12th minute Amy Rodriguez goal was all it took to condemn the Spirit to a 9th straight defeat

Anya Button

In their first game under interim head coach Tom Torres, the Washington Spirit couldn’t end their struggles, falling 1-0 to visiting Utah Royals FC. Amy Rodriguez, on a second attempt, finished off a Christen Press cross in the 12th minute for the game’s only goal. Utah kept their slim NWSL playoff hopes alive with the win. The Spirit, meanwhile, fell to a ninth straight defeat in what has been a brutal season.

Torres, who had just one training session after taking over after Jim Gabarra’s dismissal, made three changes to the side that suffered through a nightmarish defeat last weekend in Houston. DiDi Haracic replaced Aubrey Bledsoe in goal, while Whitney Church came in for Meggie Dougherty Howard in the midfield. On the left wing, Mallory Eubanks replaced the injured Francisca Ordega, who picked up a foot contusion against the Dash.

Utah came into the game needing to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, and their motivation was evident from kickoff. Their spell of pressure in the opening stages was capped off by a 12th minute goal from Amy Rodriguez. Katie Stengel, in an unorthodox role as an attacking midfielder, switched the ball out of a crowd to Christen Press on the right wing. After taking a touch, Press served in an inch-perfect cross to Rodriguez, knifing in between Rebecca Quinn and Estelle Johnson. Haracic did well to get down to stop Rodriguez’s initial volley, but couldn’t keep out the 31-year-old forward’s follow-up from 2 yards out.

The Spirit threatened sporadically in the minutes that followed, but Becky Sauerbrunn broke up what dangerous attacks they could mount. Most notably, the USWNT captain broke up an attack sparked by her international teammates, as Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh combined to create an opening. Pugh tried to play Ashley Hatch in alone on goal, but Sauerbrunn just barely tipped the ball away, allowing Royals FC to clear.

Stengel probably should have padded Utah’s lead in the 36th minute, when another Press cross from the right — this time on the run — but her first-time effort was scooped over the bar. From there, the visitors kicked it into gear, with Haracic producing two good saves on Rodriguez in the 37th and 39th minutes.

After halftime, the Spirit’s first good look came in the 52nd minute. Andi Sullivan showed good vision to pick Taylor Smith out on the overlap, cutting out the Utah midfield in the process. Smith sprinted onto the ball before firing a cross in that Ashley Hatch, under pressure from Sauerbrunn, couldn’t keep on frame.

Haracic was forced into her best save yet in the 58th minute as Gunnhildur Jonsdottir’s flick-on from a short corner ended up drifting towards the upper corner. Haracic had to go back against her own momentum to slap the ball away at the back post, keeping Washington in the game.

Torres made his first two substitutions just after the hour mark, bringing Dougherty Howard and Cali Farquharson in for Pugh and Lavelle, both of whom remain on restricted minutes due to their injury recovery plans. However, Utah’s stranglehold on the match left Washington unable to threaten Nicole Barnhart often, as Sauerbrunn foiled virtually every promising Spirit attack.

At the other end Haracic — who ended the night with 10 saves — remained busy, with another diving save on Taylor Lytle’s 20 yard bid in the 73rd minute. In the 86th, a clever ball from Press sent the overlapping Katie Bowen in on goal. Quinn’s slide tackle couldn’t block the shot, but Haracic’s quick read snuffed out the threat.

The Spirit will look to break a 604 minute scoreless streak on Saturday night, when they’ll host the Portland Thorns in the first-ever NWSL match at Audi Field. That game will be televised nationally on ESPNews, with kickoff slated for 8:00pm.