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Ashley Hatch scores in her return but Spirit settles for another draw

Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch, shown celebrating a goal in May, scored in a 1-1 draw with Racing Louisville on Friday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Forward Ashley Hatch often has been the Washington Spirit’s savior in tight games in recent years. With the Spirit facing the threat of missing crucial points Friday night and tumbling further in the National Women’s Soccer League standings, Hatch — making her first appearance since June — again generated a pivotal play.

The Spirit trailed Racing Louisville early in the second half when Hatch’s strike from the top of the box sneaked into the bottom left corner of the net, knotting the score in a 1-1 draw at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville.

While the Spirit obtained a point, it will need more of those heroics in its final seven regular season games to ascend from the bottom of the league’s standings. Washington (1-5-9) extended its winless streak to 16 games in all competitions and has not won since its regular season opener May 1.

“There’s been a sense of urgency for quite a few weeks now,” defender Amber Brooks said. “So that doesn’t change. We’re seeing progress in the overall way that we’re playing and opportunities we’re getting, but we know we need to be more clinical on both ends. But there’s a lot of faith. And we know we’re taking steps in the right direction.”

Washington’s first trip to Louisville since it won last year’s NWSL championship there posed one of its best opportunities to end the slump. Louisville (2-6-7) has not won in its previous 10 matches, with its last victory coming May 22.

When Washington last played Louisville on June 17 at Segra Field, the Spirit squandered a two-goal lead in the final 25 minutes to draw, 2-2, after Nadia Nadim scored pair of goals. On Thursday, Coach Kris Ward said the Spirit had improved since that meltdown.

But Washington still struggled to contain Nadim on Friday. In the 55th minute, Louisville forward Kirsten Davis passed to Nadim at the top of the box. Nadim dribbled to her left before launching the ball past five defenders and goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury into the bottom left corner.

The Spirit rallied behind Hatch, who was active for the first time since she suffered a muscle strain in her left leg in early July during the Concacaf W Championship. Last year’s NWSL scoring leader started the second half and scored off a pass from midfielder Jordan Baggett in the 64th minute. It was Hatch’s fifth goal this season and first since June 11.

“Obviously I’m happy I got a goal, but I would’ve been happier if we got the W,” Hatch said. “Hopefully I can continue to stay healthy and contribute going forward. But I’m definitely happy with the progress. I’m just looking forward to getting more results our way.”

Washington, tied for 10th place in the 12-team league, will face stiffer competition soon. The Spirit’s next three games come against teams hovering near the top of the league’s standings, including a match against the Portland Thorns at Segra Field on Wednesday.

“Every game is a playoff game at this point, and we know that,” Brooks said. “We’re not shy about it. We’re ready to take on that challenge starting again Wednesday against Portland.”