Spirit finally gets a lead and builds on it quickly in 4-1 victory

“They just came in confident,” Spirit Coach Kris Ward said. “They came in with a swagger. They came in determined to win because they were frustrated. … The first three games, they felt like they were capable of more.”

The Spirit (1-0-3) extended its unbeaten run in competitive matches, dating to August, to 10-0-6. Washington leapfrogged NJ/NY Gotham FC (1-1-2) for second place in the tournament’s East Division with two games remaining, two points back of the North Carolina Courage (2-0-2). The three division winners and the top runner-up will advance to the semifinals.

Washington controlled the contest from the start, pouring on the pressure as Orlando (0-3-1) failed to launch a shot on target in the first half. And in the 43rd minute, the Spirit broke through. Sullivan picked out Rodman, whose low cross from the right flank was dummied by Hatch and slotted home by Sanchez.

Rodman served up another assist two minutes later, this time operating from the left side. The reigning NWSL rookie of the year played the ball to Sullivan, who corralled the pass with her back to goal, swiveled to her right foot and deposited a shot from close range.

“We started out on the front foot and I don’t think we let them really get a rhythm going,” defender Sam Staab said. “Obviously, getting two goals right before the end of the half was awesome.”

Goalkeeper Devon Kerr, making her first start since she signed with the Spirit in 2020, secured the first-half shutout before giving way to regular starter Aubrey Kingsbury at the break.

Coming out of halftime, Washington notched another goal in the 49th minute when Hatch converted Camryn Biegalski’s low cross with a deft redirection.

The three-goal advantage lasted just five minutes, as Gunny Jonsdottir connected with Darian Jenkins’s cross to put Orlando on the board. But the Pride struggled to threaten the rest of the way as the Spirit nearly added a fourth on multiple occasions, including a Rodman strike that was ruled offside.

And Rodman recorded her goal in the 87th minute when she got on the end of Kelley O’Hara’s service and beat goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse with a floating header.

“You could see it coming in the games leading up to this,” Kerr said. “We’ve had 101 chances — it was just getting the finishes in. I feel like today was really where it all came to fruition.”

Note: The Spirit will resume Challenge Cup play against Gotham on April 17 in Harrison, N.J., following a break for international play. Kingsbury, O’Hara, Sullivan, Sanchez, Rodman and Hatch will join the United States for friendlies against Uzbekistan on April 9 in Columbus and April 12 in Chester, Pa.

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