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Washington Spirit settles for draw with Chicago Red Stars

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Considering the Washington Spirit’s extensive injuries, congested schedule and month-long winless streak, a road draw against the surging Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday was a reasonable result for the defending NWSL champion.

The Spirit wanted more from its stalemate with the Red Stars last week in Leesburg, but Washington emerged from its 0-0 draw with Chicago at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., satisfied despite a fervent second-half push that didn’t yield a winner.

“I definitely think that three points were there for the taking,” said rookie winger Maddie Elwell, who made her first NWSL start. “At the same time, I think the response was a great response. For that reason, walking away we have a more positive mood about the team rather than feeling as though we didn’t give everything that we had.”

The scoreless encounter wasn’t for a lack of trying: Chicago poured on the first-half pressure, Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stymied Washington after halftime, and both teams struck the woodwork.

The Spirit (1-2-5) has gone nine matches without a win — seven regular season contests and two matches in the preseason Challenge Cup — to leave the club eighth in the 12-team NWSL. The third-place Red Stars (3-1-3), who fell to Washington in last fall’s NWSL championship game, stretched their unbeaten run to five.

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With the Spirit playing its fourth of five games in 16 days, star attackers Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman began on the bench because of a minor injury and a recent return from coronavirus protocols, respectively. Midfielder Andi Sullivan (quadriceps) and defender Kelley O’Hara (hamstring) — just part of the Spirit’s lengthy injury list — sat out entirely.

The lack of cohesion in Washington’s shorthanded attack was clear from the outset. The visitors struggled to find a rhythm on the ball and didn’t steer a shot on goal in the first half.

Former Spirit star Mallory Pugh provided most of the danger at the other end. In the 11th minute, the forward struck the outside netting with an angled bid from close range. Eight minutes later, she rifled a left-footed shot right at Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. Her 35th-minute set piece found the head of Rachel Hill, whose glancing header ranked the post.

Spirit Coach Kris Ward changed the game at halftime, bringing on Rodman, Sanchez and Camryn Biegalski. The moves nearly paid immediate dividends: three minutes into the second half, Sanchez created a turnover near midfield, drove toward the goal and picked out Rodman, who fired a close-range effort off the far post.

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“It’s been a while since we’ve been battered like that,” Ward said of the first half. “But they did a great job coming out in the second half and taking it to Chicago.”

A minute later, the Spirit again nearly took the lead. Connecting with Morgan Goff’s left-footed cross, Ashley Hatch put a header on target that was stifled by Naeher’s left hand and parried off the goal line with her right.

Closer to what just getting started. The World Cup champion raced off her line to beat Rodman to Hatch’s enticing service in the 64th minute. With five minutes left, nearer stood strong to stone Rodman’s left-footed blast.

But it was the Red Stars who had the best chance late, with Kingsbury charging out to deny Pugh in the 79th.

“A draw is probably fair,” Ward said. “They own the first helped; we own the second half. But we didn’t do enough. We had some shots that we should have converted.”

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