The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Spirit’s modest winning streak comes to an end at expansion Angel City FC

Angel City FC 2, Spirit 1

Camryn Biegalski, left, and the Spirit could not keep their momentum going against expansion Angel City FC on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

The Washington Spirit entered Wednesday night’s match against Angel City FC with a chance to play the spoiler.

Though its own postseason hopes were already out of reach, Washington had momentum after a pair of wins in its past two games, and a result could have forced the California expansion side down a much tougher road to securing one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s six playoff spots.

The Spirit kept that a possibility right until the match’s final minutes, but left Los Angeles with a 2-1 defeat at Banc of California Stadium. Ashley Hatch put tenth-place Washington (3-6-11) on the board with a penalty kick in the 88th minute, but earlier goals from Claire Emslie and Simone Charley propelled Angel City (8-7-5), which now sits one point off the playoff line with two games to play.

The defeat ended the Spirit’s two-game winning streak under interim coach Albertin Montoya, a short-lived but still significant feat during a season marked by an 18-game skid that finally came to an end last month.

"It was hard for us to get control of the game,” said Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. “I thought [Angel City] came out and wanted it a little more than we did. Obviously, they’re fighting for a playoff spot, and we just failed to match that intensity.”

Midfielder Andi Sullivan was the lone modification to Washington’s lineup from Saturday’s 2-0 win over Gotham, starting for the first time since Aug. 27 after missing time with a knee injury but playing only the opening half.

Angel City, which also won the two sides’ previous meeting in May, dictated the game’s fast tempo from the start. The Spirit won six corners and a free kick just outside the box in the first half, but it was Angel City that broke through in the 39th minute after several successful pushes breaking down the open space on the left flank.

Midfielder Cari Roccaro found left back Ali Riley with a long ball over the heads of multiple Spirit defenders, and Riley crossed it into the box for Emslie to put away with her right foot.

The Spirit’s defensive struggles continued in the second half, as Angel City extended its advantage to 2-0 just seven minutes into the second half. Jasmyne Spencer sent a cross into an open space between two Washington defenders and found a waiting Simone Charley, who headed it past Kingsbury.

After a quiet first hour, Washington’s attack began to show some signs of life. Trinity Rodman found a quality opportunity in the 75th minute, beating two defenders inside the box but coming up short.

“We talked about it at halftime that we needed to make sure to track our runners or pass them on to someone in the back," defender Julia Roddar said. "We had a better second half solving that, and also having the ball more so we could go forward.”

In the 88th minute, Hatch won a foul and converted the penalty kick — her third goal from the spot and her ninth overall this season — to keep her side from being handed its first shutout since July. Minutes later, Rodman had an on-target chance but was ruled offside.

“Even before that [penalty goal], we were starting to really enjoy the ball and create opportunities," Montoya said. “If we would’ve gotten something a little earlier, obviously it would’ve given us more time ... I was happy how the team responded and showed a lot of character to continue fighting all the way to the end.”

Notes: Washington travels to the fifth-place Kansas City Current on Sunday and then returns home for its finale against the fourth-place Houston Dash on Oct. 1 at Audi Field. … Forward Tinaya Alexander, the Spirit’s top selection in this year’s draft, officially moved to France’s Montpellier HSC on Monday. The LSU alum made nine appearances for Washington this season.

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