Washington Spirit suffer rare loss to Angel City FC

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The Washington Spirit on Sunday experienced the unusual sensations of losing a regular-season game, losing at home and failing to create danger and excitement for one of the few times since the club’s late-summer renaissance.

Yes, the reigning National Women’s Soccer League champions were shorthanded and coming off a crowded stretch of play as the preseason challenge cup overlapped with the start of the regular season. But excuses were few and far between after a 1-0 loss to Angel City FC, an expansion team from Los Angeles.

In front of an announced crowd of 7,433 at Audi Field, the Spirit had no response to Christen Press’s goal late in the first half, falling at home for the first time since Aug. 7 — which was also the last time Washington had a regular defeat of the season (aside from two losses last fall).

Last weekend’s loss to North Carolina in the Challenge Cup Finals ended a 20-game unbeaten competitive streak in all competitions, and Sunday’s setback ended a 10-game run of the regular season.

“We definitely seemed a little lackluster and uninspiring,” said goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. “It just didn’t look dangerous.”

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The Spirit (1-1-0) was without two injured stars, Andi Sullivan (calf) and Kelley O’Hara (hamstring). A third standout, Ashley Sanchez, didn’t play until the 58th minute. Coach Kris Ward kept them out due to a minor injury sustained last weekend coupled with two upcoming games on artificial turf this week.

Also sidelined was reserve midfielder Jordan Baggett, who was rushed to a North Carolina hospital last weekend after suffering a head injury. She remains on the concussion log.

Expressing confidence in his depth, Ward said, “Others have played well and they deserve a chance to go.”

However, the spirit never got going.

“There were too many people who wanted to put the responsibility on someone else and not take it themselves,” Ward said.

Midfielder Julia Roddar added: “I don’t really have an answer as to why we couldn’t connect as properly as we usually do. LA was really good defensively and made it difficult for us.”

The visitors scored in the 42nd minute when Press collected the ball on the left 35 meters from the net. The US national team star turned to punch O’Hara’s backup Morgan Goff and ran unhindered into the box before placing a 14-yard shot to the other side of the net.

“We need to intervene earlier,” Kingsbury said. “We cannot let players go into the box before we have initiated contact.”

Washington continued to stutter early in the second half. Trinity Rodman finally got the ball in the open field in the 57th minute, but missed the short side after two cutbacks.

Enter Sanchez. The pace picked up and possession improved, but Angel City (2-1-0) were smart and disciplined, minimizing threats and staying calm on the ball. DiDi Haracic didn’t have to make any difficult saves.

As eight minutes (and then a ninth) of stoppage time elapsed, torrential rain descended, adding to the chaos of Washington’s desperation for an equalizer. Like many players, Rodman ran out of gas and when she tried to run, she fell from exhaustion.

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“It comes down to being a little reactive,” Kingsbury said. “Last year we had everything against us [with off-field issues], and it was easy to find all the motivation to play. This year that is not the case. We have to look at ourselves and figure out who this team is and just come out and take it to the teams – not wait to score or wait until the second half when the game is on the line.

Addressing the issue as well, Ward said: “That motivation can come into play when you maintain your right habits. … These things can be insidious if left unattended. Some people need a reminder of that, and hopefully today is a bit of that.”

Remarks: The Spirit signed midfield forward Maddie Elwell, a second-round draft pick who chose to finish Vanderbilt’s spring semester before joining the club. Elwell, who agreed to a one-year deal with an option held by the club in 2023, was out of uniform on Sunday. …

Hatch was fined an unknown amount by the NWSL for a high challenge in the Challenge Cup Finals. …

In a pre-game ceremony, Angel City defenseman Paige Nielsen, who has been a member of the Washington squad for the past three seasons, was presented with her 2021 championship ring. …

Commissioner Jessica Berman attended the game. …

The Spirit will play its next three games away from home, beginning with visits to Portland on Wednesday and Seattle on Sunday to take on OL Reign. The next home game is June 1 against Chicago at Segra Field in Leesburg.

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