Ashley Hatch’s PK finally puts Spirit in the win column
Ashley Hatch’s PK finally puts Spirit in the win column

The Washington Spirit’s ghastly winless rut had carried on for four brutal months, nine painful days and, on Saturday afternoon at Audi Field, almost the completion of seven nervy minutes of stoppage time.

Just as the streak seemed certain to continue, though, Washington’s fortunes turned on a trip, a whistle and a penalty kick by Ashley Hatch in front of a hushed crowd for a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Wave.

Seconds remained when Tara McKeown drew the foul. And after the commotion died down and Hatch converted in cool fashion in the 100th minute of a 90-minute National Women’s Soccer League match, the Spirit had ended a 16-game drought that began after it won the May 1 opener. (Across all competitions, the streak was 18.)

“Relief,” said Amber Brooks, a center back who scored twice in the first half. “It was just a lot of relief when Hatchy slotted it in and the whistle blew.”

The late heroics came after the reigning champion (2-6-10) had taken a 3-1 halftime lead before conceding two goals by Alex Morgan, the NWSL’s scoring leader. Morgan’s 82nd-minute equalizer, scored using the back of her head to bang in a corner kick, held up until the dying seconds.

Trinity Rodman crossed through the six-yard box. Emily van Egmond’s slide upended McKeown. Referee Karen Callado pointed to the spot.

Despite the game — and streak — at stake, Hatch said she was “just going through my routine. I was grateful the team gave me the opportunity to step up and put the game away.”

The Spirit’s highest output of the season delighted the largest announced crowd since May 1: 10,158, including Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Harris.

It came in interim coach Albertin Montoya’s debut after he replaced Kris Ward, who was fired Aug. 22.

“Their celebration at the end explains it all because they’ve been going through quite a bit,” Montoya said of the players. “They had that belief in themselves. Obviously, it’s a very talented team, but that belief and positive energy paid off at the end.”

Hatch said Montoya has got “a lot of energy, a lot of belief in us and I think that really bleeds into our training sessions and our preparation.”

Montoya, who runs a successful youth club in Northern California, is not expected to pursue the permanent job. The Spirit plans to conduct a global search this offseason.

Saturday’s outcome damaged efforts by co-leader San Diego (9-6-4) to claim the top seed in the six-team playoffs.

The Wave went ahead in the seventh minute on a goal by Jaedyn Shaw, a 17-year-old forward who had trained with the Spirit early this year before being claimed by San Diego in the NWSL’s discovery process.

The Spirit needed just four minutes to draw even. Rodman’s midfield work triggered the attack, which culminated with Ashley Sanchez finding McKeown for a 10-yard finish and her second goal of the season.

Washington took the lead in the 30th minute. Pressed forward on a free kick, Brooks capitalized on Madison Pogarch’s failed clearance and poked an 11-yard bid into the left corner for her first goal in nearly two years.

In the 44th minute, Sam Staab swung a corner kick to the back side. Brooks beat Van Egmond to the header, cleverly angling her effort to the near top corner over Kailen Sheridan’s reach.

San Diego halved the deficit 12 minutes into the second half. After drawing a hard foul on Brooks, Morgan converted a penalty kick.

In the last 20 minutes, Washington endured several scares: San Diego’s scoring threats and head injuries to Rodman and Hatch. (Both returned to the match.)

The equalizer came off Van Egmond’s corner kick into a crowd in the six-yard box. Seeking to make any contact, Morgan leaped, turned and used the back of her head to knock in her 15th goal.

The Spirit has been plagued by late-game goals all season, and this one figured to extend the winless streak. But with time running out, Hatch claimed her eighth goal of the regular season and 14th overall.

“I thought we had a little bit more belief and a little bit more structure that enabled us to keep pushing,” Brooks said.

Notes: Washington was without three U.S. national team regulars: midfielder Andi Sullivan (minor knee injury) and defenders Kelley O’Hara (hip) and Emily Sonnett (foot). … The Spirit will host Gotham FC (4-13-0) on Saturday at Audi Field. … During a halftime ceremony, Emhoff, wearing a Spirit jersey, “scored” on a penalty kick past PK, the team’s mascot.

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