Spirit collapses late, falls to Thorns as winless streak hits 17

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For all of seven minutes Wednesday night, it seemed fortune had finally turned in the Washington Spirit’s favor.

After a goalkeepers’ duel unfolded for the better part of an hour, the Spirit took the lead against first-place Portland off a Thorns own goal in the 76th minute. The end of a winless streak that has stretched over three long months, over 16 long games, appeared within sight.

By the 84th minute, Christine Sinclair had tipped in the equalizer for the Thorns, and the scoreboard at Segra Field again displayed an all-too-familiar even score line. By the second minute of stoppage time, the score had flipped again — this time thanks to Morgan Weaver’s left-footed strike — to display an all-too-familiar deficit.

The Spirit lost, 2-1, on a rain-soaked night in Leesburg, extending its winless streak to 17 games for a team that hasn’t won since the regular season opener against OL Reign on May 1.

“It should’ve been three points,” Spirit Coach Kris Ward said. “There’s no two ways around it.”

Washington (1-6-9) had its opportunities against the Thorns (7-1-7) through the final minutes, generating 19 shots and even finding a solid chance at an equalizer on Trinity Rodman’s breakaway in the eighth minute of stoppage time, but a win again proved elusive.

“Even after 1-1, I didn’t feel like the team was nervous,” Ward said. “I felt like everything was okay and everything was in control and we were going to continue to create scoring opportunities, and we did, right up until the very end. … One mistake at one point in time loses the game.”

The sides’ previous meeting, a 1-1 draw May 18, was highlighted by second-half goals from last year’s Golden Boot winner, Washington’s Ashley Hatch, and one of this year’s leading contenders, Thorns striker Sophia Smith.

This time, Smith was a late scratch from the Thorns lineup. The 22-year-old U.S. national team forward has 11 goals, tied for the most in the NWSL.

Hatch, making her first start since June 17 after recovering from a muscle strain suffered on U.S. national team duty, found a handful of early chances, including a header that went high and wide off a cross from Rodman in the 22nd minute, but struggled to convert.

Midfielder Ashley Sanchez had one of Washington’s best chances in the 40th minute, picking up a well-placed pass from Hatch in the center of the box, but her shot landed in the hands of Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby.

As the attack failed to convert, Aubrey Kingsbury anchored the Spirit, making several diving saves on breakaway attacks to keep the score even. Kingsbury finished with four saves.

The Spirit went ahead in the 76th minute after a crowded sequence in front of the Thorns’ net produced an own goal, charged to Bixby. The advantage was short-lived: Portland found its equalizer on Sinclair’s tap-in from the right side, and while the Spirit continued to press forward in stoppage time, its defense lapsed as Weaver found space for the go-ahead goal.

“Those were our points,” Spirit defender Camryn Biegalski said. “We need to perform start to finish — a full 90. We’ve been struggling to do that, but we’ve shown that we can play and we can hang, so from here out it’s going to be a grind. We just need to finish a full 90.”

Nine points below the playoff line in the 12-team standings, the defending champions will enter an extended break before their next game Aug. 27 at the third-place Houston Dash. Washington was slated to travel to Portland, Ore., in this window for the Women’s International Champions Cup against the Thorns and two European teams but withdrew in June because of scheduling concerns amid a congested calendar.

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