The Washington Spirit knew that playing at elevation, after a short turnaround, against an opponent that had to win would be a tough game, and that scenario played itself out in tonight’s 1-0 loss at Utah Royals FC. Former Spirit striker Katie Stengel broke the deadlock in the 74th minute as Utah’s pressure on the Spirit goal finally paid off. Washington fell to
Facing a second straight road game in a three-day span, head coach Jim Gabarra rotated his lineup heavily. Washington opted for five changes to their 352, with Aubrey Bledsoe, Andi Sullivan, Mallory Eubanks, Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh starting after beginning on the bench on Sunday. For Lavelle, it marked a first start since June 16th’s 0-0 draw with Seattle, while Pugh made her first start since May 23rd’s 1-0 win over Sky Blue (the last Spirit victory).
Utah largely dictated the terms, forcing Aubrey Bledsoe into multiple saves. Amy Rodriguez had a decent-looking shout for a penalty claim turned down in the 13th minute after tangling with Tori Huster. Later, Christen Press stormed in from the right wing, cutting back on Huster before firing on goal. Bledsoe made the stop, but the rebound fell across goal to Erika Tymrak, who fortunately for Washington nodded wide with the goal at her mercy.
The Spirit were able to get into several promising positions by swinging the ball out to Eubanks and Taylor Smith on the wings, but their best looks ended with Pugh having two different shots blocked in traffic. The Spirit, who are managing Pugh’s minutes after she was out for over 2 months, removed their star attacker in the 30th minute, bringing in Cali Farquharson—another long-term absentee— to play up top. Farquharson’s only prior appearance in 2018 had been a 9-minute stint back on May 5th.
The theme of managing minutes continued at halftime, with Gabarra bringing Meggie Dougherty Howard in for Lavelle. Washington tried to slow the tempo down after being on the back foot during the first half, but still needed a timely defensive header from Rebecca Quinn in the 53rd minute after Press showed some strength to hold off Eubanks and cross for an open Tymrak.
Three minutes later, the Spirit carved out their best look of the night up to that point. Sullivan and Hatch faced a mob of defenders, but seized on some hesitancy among Royals FC to exchange passes before Sullivan curled in a dangerous cross to the back post. Farquharson had lost her markers before knifing between Sydney Miramontez and Samantha Johnson, but the cross was just inches too far for her to nod past Nicole Barnhart.
Rodriguez showed some slick moves to escape Quinn in the 62nd minute after her shot was blocked by Estelle Johnson, eventually getting a shot on the turn that went just wide of Bledsoe’s left post.
The Spirit were showing signs of tiring out, with Caprice Dydasco replacing Farquharson in the 73rd minute and Eubanks moving up front. However, it was a sub that came in at the same time that ended up creating the opener for Utah. Diana Matheson, the Spirit’s all-time leading scorer, came in for Rodriguez, and her first action of the game was a dummy on a pass from Taylor Lytle, fooling Washington’s defense and seeing Katie Stengel pick the ball up in acres of space.
Stengel made no mistake, smartly firing a low shot past Bledsoe in the 74th minute. The goal was the third of this road trip by a former Spirit forward, as both of Seattle’s goals on Sunday came from ex-Washington strikers Jasmyne Spencer and Jodie Taylor.
The goal boosted Royals FC, who took several more shots in the minutes that followed. However, even with USWNT center back Becky Sauerbrunn subbing in for Press, Washington carved out their best chance of the game in stoppage time. Eubanks, who had moved up front when Dydasco entered, exchanged passes with Smith, with the latter moving inside as Eubanks dragged the Utah defense out to the wing. Eubanks played it back to Smith, dashing into the box, but her shot from 12 yards was spectacularly blocked by a sliding Rachel Corsie.
That was the last look of the game, as Washington fell to their seventh straight loss and saw their scoreless run to 424 minutes. The Spirit have scored just one goal in their last 10 full games of soccer. They’ll look to break out of this long funk next Friday, as they travel to Texas to face the Houston Dash.