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Spirit falls to Racing Louisville, 2-0, despite controlling much of the match

Washington Spirit forward Trinity Rodman, left, is shown during an April exhibition match against Racing Louisville's Emily Fox. The Spirit won last month but could not repeat the performance Friday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Spirit’s failure to capitalize on a wealth of opportunities turned costly Friday when Racing Louisville, a National Women’s Soccer League expansion team without any marquee players, parlayed two late goals at home into its first victory, 2-0.

The opening strike, by a Louisville native and former Louisville Cardinal, was of supreme quality in the 76th minute. The second came on a swift counterattack five minutes later in front of a purple-clad crowd of 6,011 at Lynn Family Stadium that included U.S. national team coach Vlatko Andonovski.

The Spirit (0-1-1) had massive advantages in shots (29-8), shots on goal (10-3), corner kicks (13-3) and possession percentage (60-40). But Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos was terrific, and the visitors stumbled to find the target, perhaps underscoring the need to acquire a proven scorer this summer.

Washington scored three goals in four Challenge Cup preseason matches and once in two regular season games.

“Not pushing the panic button, not going to make dramatic changes,” Coach Richie Burke said. “We’re going to continue to look at a group that I’m very happy with, and hopefully things will turn our way.”

The Spirit could have gone ahead one minute into the match. Ashley Sanchez, a forward who dropped into a playmaking role, set up Trinity Rodman with a terrific through ball. Betos made an excellent hand save, and a defender blocked Kumi Yokoyama’s rebound effort deep in the box.

“We had an opportunity right off the bat and it just progressed throughout the game,” Sanchez said. “There were definitely a lot of chances we should’ve put away, could’ve put away. It’s just that final piece.”

Betos made a foot save on Saori Takarada’s golden opportunity.

In the 38th minute, Washington’s Aubrey Bledsoe made a diving save on a 25-yard bid by Emily Fox, an Ashburn native and former North Carolina standout who was picked first overall in the NWSL draft in January.

Despite playing left back, Fox was Louisville’s most influential attacker in the first half with her ability to create and threaten.

The Spirit took the initiative in the second half and seemed on the cusp of a breakthrough. Betos made a quality save on substitute Ashley Hatch’s header, set up by Kelley O’Hara’s long ball, and an offside call wiped out an apparent goal.

The match turned dramatically. Local hero Emina Ekic, a rookie forward and 61st-minute substitute, evaded two defenders on the right side and pumped a left-footed, 18-yarder with power and precision beyond Bledsoe’s reach and into the far side of the net.

Five minutes later, Louisville (1-0-1) turned a counterattack into a three-on-one advantage. Ekic supplied CeCe Kizer, who settled the ball at the top of the box and drove the ball into the right side.

Rodman hit the post from distance, and Louisville cleared threats to secure its second shutout.

Washington lost two players to injuries: Dorian Bailey to a disclosed shoulder seven minutes after she entered and Rodman, a rookie standout who was treated on the ground for several minutes after she took a hit in the ribs and suffered back spasms in stoppage time.

“We’re a young team,” O’Hara said. “Hopefully the number of chances that we got, we start finishing some of them. There were opportunities in front of the goal that in any other circumstances go in. They’ll come.”

The Spirit is scheduled to play its home opener Wednesday at Segra Field in Leesburg against the Houston Dash even though stadium renovations haven’t been completed. Two Challenge Cup matches were moved to Audi Field in the District because of delayed work on permanent locker rooms and restrooms.

Washington is scheduled to play seven regular season matches at Audi Field and five at Segra Field. Loudoun United, a second-division men’s team, and Old Glory DC, a pro rugby team, have been playing at Segra Field.

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