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Spirit beats Gotham FC, has postseason hopes dashed a short while later

Ashley Sanchez scored the Spirit's second goal of the night against Gotham FC on Saturday. (Tony Quinn for the Washington Post)

A week after the Washington Spirit fueled its flickering playoff hopes with its first win in four months, the defending NWSL champions made it two straight victories Saturday at Audi Field to keep their title defense alive — for a few more minutes, at least.

Tara McKeown scored early in the second half and Ashley Sanchez added a late tally as the Spirit notched a 2-0 win over last-place Gotham FC, which dropped its 10th straight. A short while later, though, OL Reign’s 2-1 win over North Carolina went final, officially eliminating Washington from postseason contention.

The Spirit (3-6-10) needed help in multiple games Saturday night to stay in contention for one of the NWSL’s six playoff slots.

“What we’re trying to do is just lay down the foundation for next year, get the right mentality, identify the players that are going to help us long term,” interim coach Albertin Montoya said. “They’re really buying into it, and they’re starting to see the results. So that’s really what we’ll continue hammering.”

The victory over the Harrison, N.J.-based visitors improved Washington to 2-0 under Montoya, who took the reins in late August. He succeeded Kris Ward, who was fired amid the Spirit’s lackluster results and a training incident that led captain Andi Sullivan to say the players supported Ward’s dismissal.

“Our team recently has been more together as a unit,” McKeown said. “We’re just focusing on getting better for next season, and each game is a chance for us to do that.”

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Montoya inserted Dorian Bailey and Bayley Feist in midfield as the only changes from the team that snapped the 16-game winless streak — 18 across all competitions — with a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Wave last weekend. Julia Roddar dropped from midfield to defense to fill in for center back Amber Brooks, who scored twice against San Diego but was suspended for yellow card accumulation.

Gotham goalkeeper Michelle Betos nearly gifted the Spirit a goal in the 16th minute, when her errant long ball went straight to Trinity Rodman. The Spirit attacker promptly slipped in Sanchez one-on-one before Betos bailed herself out with a kick save.

Gotham defender Imani Dorsey denied Rodman in the 32nd minute, recovering from her own mis-hit clearance to block Rodman’s point-blank volley. Washington again came close moments before halftime, when Sam Staab played Ashley Hatch in on goal and the striker’s one-time effort skimmed off the crossbar.

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The Spirit broke through in the 51st minute. Sanchez struck a through ball down the right flank into the path of McKeown, whose centering feed was blocked by Gotham defender Ali Krieger. But the loose ball ricocheted back to McKeown, who finished for her third goal of the season.

“I mean, a goal’s a goal,” McKeown said of the scrappy finish. “I’m happy to get any goal.”

Washington continued to win the possession battle and carve out the better chances, but Gotham (4-15-0) flirted with an equalizer in the 78th minute when Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe did well to punch away Midge Purce’s teasing cross.

Washington got its insurance goal in the 86th minute. Betos took a heavy touch as Gotham knocked passes around the back, allowing Sanchez to close in, take the ball off her foot and slot into an empty net.

“As soon as I saw her take the touch, I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I could get there,’ ” Sanchez said. “So I just pick-pocketed her a little bit.”

Notes: The Spirit will be without Brooks again Wednesday against Angel City FC in Los Angeles after the NWSL suspended the defender for an additional game for making an obscene gesture in the win over San Diego. She will be eligible to return for the Spirit’s final two games, at the Kansas City Current on Sept. 25 and against the Houston Dash on Oct. 1 at Audi Field. ...

Kumi Yokoyama, a member of Washington’s 2021 NWSL title team who was traded to Gotham in the offseason, received their championship ring from Spirit owner Y. Michele Kang in a pregame ceremony.

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