Sanchez Wondergoal Lifts Washington Spirit to First Win Under Acting Coach Kris Ward

By: Justin McMullen
Posted: August 27, 2021

(Image credit: Washington Spirit twitter)

Buoyed yet again by the heroics of their young forwards, the Washington Spirit overcame the Orlando Pride 2-1 on Sunday, after a late screamer from Ashley Sanchez handed the interim Pride coach her first loss in front of 6,000+ fans at Audi Field in Washington, DC.

The Washington Spirit, now weeks apart from the sidelining of head coach Richie Burke due to an ongoing investigation into alleged player abuse, find themselves in a strong position to make a playoff spot with nine regular-season games left to play, sitting third in the ten-team NWSL table and tied in points with fourth-place OL Reign. 

The win over Orlando snapped a three-game winless streak and marked the first victory for acting coach Kris Ward, no doubt a monkey off the back of a group of players who were dealt a tumultuous stretch due to the alleged actions of their now-former coach. “It’s been a challenge,” Ward said. “A lot of this week was just, whatever we do, we’re going to do it together. That was the final point before they went on the field, and you saw that out of every performance, everyone just going through giving all that they could. That’s all that we can ask of them.”

Washington, while controlling the bulk of the match’s quality chances and outshooting the Pride by a final tally of 20-12, conceded the game’s first goal, giving up possession in their own third and allowing Brazilian legend Marta to unleash a long-range missile inside the far post with her left foot in the 68th minute. Washington were quick to respond, with young striker Ashley Hatch taking advantage of a defensive miscue and tapping in an equalizer in the 70th. From there, it took a moment of brilliance from substitute Ashley Sanchez in the 89th minute to bring home three points. 

After defending an Orlando corner kick, Washington looked to move quickly on the counter-attack. Sanchez started the play by winning possession and volleying a pass to midfielder Tori Huster, who threaded a long pass to Trinity Rodman on the right flank. Rodman assessed her options a bit too late and missed a cutting forward, but was able to find Sanchez outside the box. Sanchez took two touches before letting go a long-distance effort of her own, beating Pride keeper Ashlyn Harris with a remarkable shot that dipped inside the crossbar to Harris’ right. 

The Spirit will now look forward to another meeting with second-place North Carolina Courage inside Audi Field. The Courage are five points ahead of the Spirit with 27, and are currently riding a three-match win streak. In their last meeting in the same venue on July 10 of this year, it was the Spirit who dominated a North Carolina side missing a handful of Olympic players. While the Olympics are no longer a concern, the Courage will be without US international midfielder Sam Mewis, who announced days ago that she had undergone an arthroscopic knee surgery that comes with a 6-8 week recovery time.

The Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage will kick off at Audi Field on Sunday, August 29 at 5pm ET. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+. 

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