WASHINGTON – For the last four games, Ashley Hatch did not score a goal, being shut out by opponents, despite having the most shots on the Washington Spirit.
She headed into halftime against the Orlando Pride on Aug. 24 upset after missing two header goals and watch a third one sail over the crossbar to start the second half. Visibly frustrated, the striker knew at some point she would score.
In the 59th minute, the Gilbert, Arizona native got one more chance when defender Tori Huster launched a long cross from about midfield into the penalty area. Hatch jumped over two defenders, struck the ball with her head and watched it sail passed a diving Ashlyn Harris for the goal. Hatch could not contain her emotions as she celebrated with her teammates.
“(The goal) meant a lot,” Hatch said. “My team was working so hard, I think it was my responsibility to finally put it in the back of the net for them. It was not only an exciting goal for me but for all of us, because it was such a team effort.”
In a historic evening, with 19,471 fans in attendance at Audi Field, the home of Major League Soccer side D.C. United, Hatch’s resolve turned into the game winning goal that propelled the Washington Spirit to their first win in four matches, defeating the Orlando Pride 2-1.
The result comes at a perfect time for the Spirit (7-7-4), as the victory moves them up to sixth place, with 25 points in the standings. They sit three points away from a playoff spot, occupied by fourth-place Utah Royals.
It also came as Washington, playing their third match in seven days, were without five players due to injuries. Two of those include U.S. Women’s National Team players Mallory Pugh (right thigh) and Rose Lavelle (head injury).
“We were a little under the weather, and they managed to pull through,” Head Coach Richie Burke said. “It wasn’t our best football. It wasn’t as crisp as I’d like it to be, but that’s what you expect in three matches so close together – it’s tough, and I’m very proud of them.”
Both teams arrived energized following their last encounter on July 6. They combined for 34 shots in the back-and-forth match, but the Pride (4-12-2) earned the 4-3 home victory after two second-half goals from Brazilian striker Marta.
Washington would strike first, as striker Crystal Thomas caught Harris attempting to dribble with a surprise slide tackle from behind on the ball. Thomas’ kick pushed the ball into the empty goal net to give the Spirit an early one-goal lead in the ninth minute. According to Burke, it was all by design, as Washington looked to press Orlando’s defense early and often.
Having Thomas, a 5-foot-4 striker, do it made him even happier.
“She’s a little pest,” Burke said. “But she is our pest and we all love her, but she not only is she a pest…She’s been great to have, because there have been a lot of players who put in a lot of minutes this season, and they are breaking down, so she’s been a real fresh injection for us.”
Washington was unable to increase their lead despite multiple opportunities on goal. The Pride (4-12-2) took advantage in the 31st minute off a quick turnover in midfield to start a counterattack. Striker Rachel Hill ran into Washington’s penalty area to find Marta open for a tap-in goal to tie the game before halftime.
Two minutes into the second half, a low pass snuck toward Hatch right outside the eight-yard box. She misdirected the easy attempt, sending it over the goal net and blowing another goal-scoring opportunity. Once she finally scored about 12 minutes later, the team’s new leading scorer (five goals) said scoring was “a huge relief” and weight off her shoulders.
“It was bound to come at some time, and it was a good time to come,” Hatch said.
In the dying minutes of the match, the Spirit continued attacking forward, looking to add a third and game-killing goal. Substitute Bayley Feist had two attempts in two minutes, each of which were stopped by Harris.
With seconds to spare, Marta’s final attempt to tie the game smacked the crossbar and darted away from goal as the Spirit survived the last-minute assault to win.
Following the match, the team took time to greet and thank as many fans as possible for coming to Audi Field, setting a new franchise attendance record. Majority Owner Steve Baldwin said he hopes this atmosphere can become the norm for his team going forward as women’s soccer continues to trend upward in the United States.
“It was a good day,” Sullivan said. “This is something that our new ownership came in and wanted to do and wants to make this the norm. To have such a great first game here and we get to do it again soon, it’s a great relationship here, so hopefully, we get to redo that and have great crowds.”