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Ashley Hatch scores twice against her old team as the Spirit stops the Courage, 2-0

The Spirit's Ashley Hatch beats Abby Erceg, right, and Casey Murphy of the Courage to score her second goal of the first half Saturday at Audi Field. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post)

The North Carolina Courage drafted Ashley Hatch in 2017 and, after one season, traded her to the Washington Spirit. Since then, the forward has had her fair share of chances to score against her former team, but over 12 shots in eight games, she hadn’t found the back of the net.

That changed Saturday night. Hatch scored twice in the first half, guiding the Spirit to a 2-0 victory over the Courage at Audi Field as she moved into a tie for first place in the National Women’s Soccer League with five goals.

“It definitely feels good,” Hatch said. “It’s not something I’m really thinking about right now because we do have such a long season and my goal for this year is to help my team make it to the championship game.”

Saturday’s showdown was an opportunity for the Spirit to find out how it stacks up against the league’s best. The Courage, the NWSL champion in 2018 and 2019, strode into Audi Field having won four straight, and it was tied with the Orlando Pride atop the NWSL with 16 points. The Spirit entered with 12 points, needing a win to inch itself closer to first place.

The Spirit (4-2-3) also had a chance Saturday to do what it hadn’t done all season: win at home. Washington managed a 1-1 draw against the Pride on June 6 at Audi Field and lost to the Chicago Red Stars on July 2 at Segra Field in Leesburg. That loss, which came in the Spirit’s previous game, snapped a five-game undefeated streak (3-0-2).

Trying to win at home without its four Olympians — Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Saori Takarada and Julia Roddar — made the task more daunting. But the Spirit controlled the game from the beginning, applying pressure to the Courage (5-3-1) by maintaining possession early in the first half. Its aggressiveness paid off in the 12th minute when a cross by defender Tegan McGrady landed at the feet of Hatch, who tucked it into the bottom left corner for a 1-0 lead.

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The Spirit thrived offensively as the Courage struggled early — the Spirit had five shots before the Courage took its first. The Courage still had two opportunities to score late in the first half, but it couldn’t capitalize. Courage defender Abby Erceg had a close-range shot blocked by Spirit goalie Aubrey Bledsoe, and then Erceg’s header off the ensuing corner kick hit the crossbar.

Hatch made sure her former team paid for its inability to score. Off a giveaway, Washington’s Andi Sullivan had a perfectly timed through ball to Hatch, who stuck the ball past the outstretched arms of Courage goalie Casey Murphy in first-half stoppage time.

“Our team is just becoming a little bit closer, and we’re learning more about each other on the field, and it’s starting to click a little bit more,” Hatch said. “All around, our attack as a team is just getting better.”

After 45 minutes, the Spirit had outshot the Courage 10-5 and had possession 56.5 percent of the time. In the second half, the Spirit defense stepped up to keep the Courage off the board, limiting North Carolina to three shots.

Spirit Coach Richie Burke noted there’s a long season ahead — Washington next hosts NY/NJ Gotham FC on July 18 at Segra Field — but wins such as this are vital for his team’s confidence.

“If we lost this one, we were still middle of the pack, they’re maybe three points clear of everybody,” Burke said. “So it was a crucial match for us in terms of the numbers, but, again, it’s the ninth game of the season, and there’s still plenty to go. But it’s a little bit of a boost for us to show that we can play that well against a team of that caliber.”

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