Washington Spirit’s winless streak hits 10 after loss to North Carolina Courage

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The post-title hangover for the Washington Spirit hit upon another sobering chapter Saturday night at Segra Field in Leesburg. In a rematch of last month’s NWSL Challenge Cup final, the North Carolina Courage scored a stoppage-time goal to hand the host a 3-2 loss that extended the Spirit’s winless run to 10 games.

The winner came from the Courage’s Kaleigh Kurtz, who scored from point-blank range. The Spirit’s drought has included five games in 16 days.

“We need to be able to figure the game out a little bit sooner and grow into it a little bit faster,” Spirit forward Ashley Hatch said. “This long stretch of games has been hard, but I think that’s why we need to come out and figure out how we’re going to win the game.”

While officially a preseason tournament, the Challenge Cup final bled into the regular season and was a charged affair, with Courage forward Kerolin exiting early after a hard challenge from Spirit defender Sam Staab. In her second start since recovering from that injury, Kerolin exacted some revenge, breaking past the defense early off a threaded pass from Brianna Pinto to slot home the opening goal in the sixth minute.

The Spirit had its chances the rest of the second half but could not find an equalizer. Trinity Rodman and rookie forward Maddie Elwell, making just her second start, were threats throughout the first 45 minutes.

Courage defender Abby Erceg doubled the lead five minutes into the second half with a header.

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The defending champion finally found its stride shortly thereafter, and when Bayley Feist put a pass onto the foot of Ashley Sanchez in the middle of the box, Sanchez found the lower left corner to cut the lead in half.

The Spirit kept the momentum and earned a corner in the 78th minute. The resulting scrum led to a foul on Kurtz in the box. Hatch converted to draw Washington even.

Then came a set piece in stoppage time, with Kurtz finding daylight past Aubrey Kingsbury to seal the win and send Washington to a spiraling 1-3-5. The Courage improved to 2-3-1.

The Spirit has six days to recover, reflect — and get healthy. Rodman is just returning fully to the team since going into the covid-19 protocols, captain Andi Sullivan is still out with a calf injury, and Kelley O’Hara (hamstring) just returned to the bench.

“It’s positive that we’ll have some people back for next week,” Coach Kris Ward said. “But I think the biggest thing is going to be how they recover and how they approach the next game.”

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