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Confident Washington Spirit down North Carolina Courage 2-0 at Audi Field

The Spirit took down the league leaders with their best performance thus far in 2021

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit bounced back from a loss last week in a confident 2-0 win over the North Carolina Courage. Ashley Hatch scored twice before halftime as the Spirit broke a four-game Courage winning streak, beating NC for just the second time ever before 4,929 at Audi Field.

Richie Burke made just one change to his lineup, with Anna Heilferty taking over at right back for the Olympics-bound Julia Roddar. Unlike last week, though, the Spirit took control and broke the visitors down straight from the start. A 4th minute cross from the left trickled across to Dorian Bailey, whose point-blank shot was saved by Casey Murphy. The rebound fell to the top of the box for Andi Sullivan, who unleashed a rocket that struck Tori Huster, likely preventing a goal.

Washington did one better in the 11th minute, taking a 1-0 lead. The Spirit built confidently along the left, with Bailey eventually moving the ball wide for Tegan McGrady. McGrady sized things up before floating a cross in that tempted Murphy off her line, along with both Courage center backs. None of them could get to the service, though, and it fell perfectly for Ashley Hatch to tap in.

The Courage fired some stray shots wide of Aubrey Bledsoe’s goal before the Spirit had the next serious chance. This time, Ashley Sanchez sliced past Denise O’Sullivan to get space on the right before picking out Hatch, whose first-time shot was well saved by a diving Murphy.

Sanchez was denied in the 30th minute by another flying Murphy save as Washington’s attackers continued to show technique and abundant confidence on the ball. Still, the Spirit had to dodge two bullets late in the half. First, Abby Erceg came forward for a long throw-in that somehow evaded the Spirit defense, but the New Zealand international was denied by a wonderful Bledsoe save. On the ensuing corner, Erceg escaped Trinity Rodman and the rest of the Spirit, only to nod Carson Pickett’s service off the bar.

That marked an inflection point, as the Spirit made it 2-0 seconds into first half stoppage time. Sullivan stepped high to intercept a pass out of the back from the Courage and lead a two-on-two break. Sullivan drew Kaleigh Kurtz before sliding an inch-perfect pass in behind for Hatch, who calmly rolled her shot past Murphy. The goal, her fifth of the season, moved her into a tie for the league lead with Sydney Leroux and Lynn Williams.

Washington largely controlled the early moments of the second half, but NC reminded them of their threat with Merritt Mathias firing a hard cross on the 59th minute that Jess McDonald couldn’t keep down from close range.

Sanchez was heartbreakingly close to a goal several times, including a lob that clipped the crossbar. A 76th minute interception and pass saw her feed substitute Tara McKeown, but the rookie’s left-footed shot was fought off by Murphy. After replacing Paige Nielsen amid a Spirit reshuffle, Kumi Yokoyama guided a shot after a corner kick just wide, while Sanchez was cruelly denied again by Murphy from a late free kick.

The win takes the Spirit (4W-3D-2L) into a tie with Portland for third place in the NWSL standings. The Spirit will complete a three-game home stand next Sunday, when they will host NJ/NY Gotham FC at Segra Field in Leesburg at 5:00pm.

Box Score

NWSL Regular Season - Game 9
Washington Spirit 2 (Hatch 11, 46+)
North Carolina Courage 0

Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Anna Heilferty, Paige Nielsen (Kumi Yokoyama 81), Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady (Camryn Biegalski 82); Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman (Tara McKeown 67), Ashley Sanchez (Karina Rodriguez 93+), Ashley Hatch

NC (4222): Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett (Schuyler DeBree 78); Angharad James (Cari Roccaro 46), Denise O’Sullivan; Kristen Hamilton (Rylee Baisden 78), Havana Solaun (Meredith Speck 64); Hailie Mace (Brittany Ratcliffe 64), Jess McDonald

Spirit - Sanchez 29, HC Burke 35, Huster 77
NC - HC Riley 35, Mathias 78, DeBree 84, O’Sullivan 88