Washington Spirit draws with Houston Dash after firing coach Kris Ward


In its first match since coach Kris Ward’s sacking, the Washington Spirit on Saturday was within moments of winning for the first time in almost four months.

But after taking the lead on Ashley Hatch’s goals two minutes apart early in the second half, the Spirit conceded Michelle Alozie’s stoppage-time equalizer and settled for a 2-2 draw with the Dash in Houston.

The Spirit’s rut, which began after it won the May 1 opener, has covered 16 regular season matches and 18 in all competitions.

The result came five days after Ward was fired following an incident with a player at training Aug. 19. On Thursday, Mark Krikorian, the team’s president of soccer operations, said a “change was necessary.”

Later that day, in an interview with the Athletic, Ward explained the situation. After Saturday’s match, co-captain Andi Sullivan, speaking on behalf of the team, blasted Ward in a prepared statement.

“We know his interview to be a completely inaccurate recollection of a serious situation, and furthermore, the apology offered to us demonstrates a misalignment in his words and his actions towards his team,” Sullivan said. “The players fully support the decision of the club to relieve him of his duties.”

Ward, in his first full season as head coach, would have been fired at the end of the season anyway because of the team’s poor performance and a deteriorating relationship with players, people familiar with the team’s plans said.

Kris Ward fired after training incident, Spirit’s Mark Krikorian says

Angela Salem, a first-year assistant, inherited the lead role until an interim coach is named for the final five matches.

“When things didn’t go their way, they were still fighting,” she said after Saturday’s match. “That was really positive because that’s not always the case when teams go through difficult times. I really thought they stuck together, and I was really impressed with their fight and resilience.”

The Dash (8-5-5) went ahead in the 22nd minute. Off a free kick, goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury made a sensational diving save to prevent an own goal, but Sophie Schmidt converted the rebound.

Houston’s Jane Campbell made a diving save on Tara McKeown’s deflected bid, and Trinity Rodman was caught offside on a scoring sequence. Three minutes into the second half, Campbell thwarted Rodman’s high threat. After Kingsbury made a one-on-one save on Ebony Salmon, the Spirit struck twice in rapid succession.

It began with a gorgeous sequence in the open field. In midfield, Rodman backheeled the ball to Ashley Sanchez, who returned it to Rodman in stride on the right flank. Rodman’s cross met Hatch in the penalty area for a one-touch finish.

Two minutes later, Washington (1-6-10) scored on a set piece. From the side edge of the penalty area, Sanchez drove a free kick toward Hatch, who adjusted to the ball streaking a bit behind her and used a seven-yard header to score her team-best seventh goal.

Washington’s lead held up until the first of six additional minutes. Kingsbury made a flash save on Alozie’s header, but the Houston substitute beat the goalkeeper to the rebound and slipped it under her.

In the big picture, Sullivan said, “This has been an extremely difficult time, and the way that we still were able to attack training this week and also enjoy each other’s company was really a testament to the players’ characters.”

Notes: Kingsbury, Rodman, Hatch, Sanchez and Sullivan will report to U.S. national team camp in Kansas City, Kan., for next Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria. The teams will then meet Sept. 6 in Washington. If not for injuries, Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett also would have made the U.S. roster. …

Reserve defender Karina Rodriguez was named to the Mexican squad for friendlies in the Los Angeles area against New Zealand and NWSL’s Angel City. …

Mike Bristol was added to the Spirit coaching staff after serving as an assistant at Florida State under Krikorian, the former Seminoles coach.

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