The Washington Spirit had some bad luck, and some bad moments go punished in a 3-1 road loss to the Chicago Red Stars. Goals from Mal Pugh and Rachel Hill in the first half shook the Spirit, and though they got an individual goal from Trinity Rodman to give them some life, a dubious penalty kick from Morgan Gautrat sealed the defeat for the Spirit, who followed up a win with a loss for the third straight time.
Washington — who had planned on starting Tegan McGrady only to make her a late scratch, with Chinyelu Asher starting instead — nearly got themselves an early lead in the 7th minute. After Ashley Hatch won a free kick in the attacking third, Ashley Sanchez’s service found Trinity Rodman at the back post. Rodman appeared to be in two minds on whether to pass or shoot, and the result was a bobbling ball across the top of the six-yard box. Sam Staab seemed to have a great chance, but arrived too early with her lunge. The ball eventually fell to Yokoyama, who steered their shot through traffic, but just barely wide.
Chicago had not offered a threat, but suddenly took the lead in the 20th minute on a wonderful solo effort from Mal Pugh. Facing her old club, Pugh forced a turnover from Huster before driving diagonally into the attacking third, and then struck a sneaky low shot that went between Staab’s feet and tucked into the bottom corner past Bledsoe.
The goal seemed to stun the Spirit, who struggled to recover their positive early form in the match. Eventually that came with a price, as the Red Stars doubled their lead in the 39th minute. Danny Colaprico’s corner kick found Kayla Sharples, whose header into the mixer appeared to be touched on by Tatumn Milazzo on the doorstep, and then was bundled over the line by Rachel Hill. Despite a hint of Hill possibly being offside, the goal stood, with Washington conceding their fourth set piece goal in the last five matches.
Washington, who began the second half with more focus and energy, had a good look from an Andi Sullivan corner seconds after the second half began, with Paige Nielsen’s goal-bound shot glancing off a Chicago defender and over Cassie Miller’s goal.
That sparked a trend as the Spirit piled up corners, and despite coming close several times, never managing to truly test Miller. Staab’s header in the 65th minute left Miller with no chance, but the ball bounced to the wrong side of the post, leaving the Spirit frustrated once again.
Chicago had barely come forward at all in the first 20 minutes of the half, but a Red Stars set piece in the 68th minute fell to Tatumn Milazzo, whose first-time shot seemed destined for goal before being blocked by Nielsen in the goalmouth.
The Spirit needed a spark, and it came from a familiar source in the 71st minute. Rodman sprinted furiously forward to pressure Chicago, stripping Sarah Gorden after a weak pass. Rodman charged forward into the area, rounding Miller, and then showing patience to create an opening to fire past two retreating Red Stars defenders to get the Spirit back within a goal.
However, the Spirit were handed some bad news just ten minutes later. A shot from outside the box from Chicago clipped someone in traffic, bouncing up against Staab. Despite Staab having tucked her arm in to avoid any possible handball, referee Natalie Simon — who drew the Spirit’s ire throughout the match — pointed to the spot and booked Staab. Morgan Gautrat, as she did in the Spirit’s last visit to SeatGeek Stadium, converted the penalty kick with ease to make it 3-1 in the 81st minute.
The Spirit threw numbers forward in pursuit of a goal, but Aubrey Bledsoe had to make a strong save in the 86th minute to deny a long-range strike from Sarah Woldmoe, while another late counter saw Alyssa Mautz curl a stoppage-time shot barely wide.
The loss drops Washington (5W-3D-4L) to 4th place on 18 points, with Chicago leaping over them in the NWSL standings. The Spirit return to action in just under a week, as they host the Portland Thorns at Segra Field on Saturday, August 7, with kickoff set for 7:30pm.
NWSL Regular Season - Game 12
Chicago Red Stars 3 (Pugh 20, Hill 39, Gautrat 81pen)
Washington Spirit 1 (Rodman 71)
Red Stars (4231): Cassie Miller; Tatumn Milazzo, Kayla Sharples, Sarah Gorden, Arin Wright; Sarah Woldmoe, Danny Colaprico (Nikki Stanton 84); Mal Pugh, Morgan Gautrat (C), Rachel Hill (Alyssa Mautz 81); Kealia Watt (Katie Johnson 84)
Spirit (4231): Aubrey Bledsoe; Anna Heilferty, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Chinyelu Asher (Camryn Biegalski 63); Tori Huster (Tara McKeown 63), Andi Sullivan (C); Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Kumi Yokoyama (Taylor Aylmer 46); Ashley Hatch (Mariana Speckmaier 85)
Red Stars -
Spirit - Rodman 30, Aylmer 68, Staab 79