The Washington Spirit extended their winning streak to four and took sole possession of first place in the NWSL with a 2-0 win over Utah Royals FC on Saturday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
In front of a season-high crowd of 4,575, goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe recorded six saves and her fourth clean sheet of the season. The Spirit scored a goal in each half on their way to avenging a 1-0 loss in Utah on April 20. It was Washington’s first win over Royals FC since the team relocated to Utah before the 2018 season.
Forward Ashley Hatch has been on a goalscoring tear lately, continuing her run by giving the Spirit a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. After receiving a cross from defender Tori Huster, Hatch dribbled along the top of the box before turning and slotting the ball past Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart at the far post. It was Hatch’s third straight game with a goal after scoring against Portland on May 18 and being nominated for the NWSL Goal of the Week award for her strike at Chicago on May 26.
The Spirit nearly doubled their lead in the 32nd minute when a shot by midfielder Dorian Bailey beat Barnhart but clanged off the left goalpost. Washington would go into halftime with the 1-0 lead and a dominant 60.4 percent mark in the possession battle.
The pick of Bledsoe’s half-dozen saves came in the 65th minute, when she dove to stop a well-struck close-range effort by Utah’s Amy Rodriguez. Utah had worked the ball into the area with a rapid combination of short passes, but Bledsoe did well to track the play and find the right placement to block the shot, corralling it into her chest.
Five minutes later, rookie midfielder Dorian Bailey put the Spirit up 2-0 with her first career NWSL goal. Hatch dribbled into the box and let loose a shot that ricocheted off the far post and left Barnhart frozen off her line. Bailey gathered the rebound and sent it into the open net, all but guaranteeing the Spirit three points and sole possession of the top spot in the league.
Washington’s two goals were only the fourth and fifth conceded by Utah since the start of the season. Besides moving into first place in the league, the Spirit also now own the NWSL’s best defensive record with just four goals allowed. It was Royals FC’s first time conceding the opening goal in a game and first time trailing by multiple goals this year.
After a World Cup break next weekend, the Spirit will put their first-place standing and league-best four-game win streak on the line when they visit Reign FC on June 15 in Tacoma, Washington.
Photos courtesy Washington Spirit and NWSL.