Washington Spirit draws against Houston Dash after sacking coach Kris Ward

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In their first game since coach Kris Ward was fired on Saturday, the Washington Spirit was moments away from victory for the first time in nearly four months.

But after taking the lead early in the second half with Ashley Hatch’s goals two minutes apart, the Spirits conceded Michelle Alozie’s injury-time equalizer to settle for a 2-2 draw with Dash in Houston.

The Spirit’s trott, which began after winning the May 1 opener, spanned 16 regular season games and 18 in all competitions.

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

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

“We know his interview is a completely inaccurate reminder of a serious situation, and also the apology offered to us shows a misalignment in his words and actions towards his team,” Sullivan said. “The players fully support the club’s decision 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 due to the team’s poor performance and a deteriorating relationship with the players, people familiar with the team’s plans said.

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

Angela Salem, a first-year assistant, took the lead role until an interim coach was named for the final five games.

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

The Dash (8-5-5) took the lead in the 22nd minute. After a free kick, goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury sensationally prevented an own goal, but Sophie Schmidt converted the rebound.

Houston’s Jane Campbell saved Tara McKeown’s deflected offer and Trinity Rodman was caught offside in a scoring sequence. Three minutes into the second half, Campbell thwarted Rodman’s high threat. After Kingsbury parried Ebony Salmon one on one, the Spirit struck twice in quick succession.

It started with a beautiful open field sequence. In midfield, Rodman heeled the ball to Ashley Sanchez, who returned it in step to Rodman on the right flank. Rodman’s cross caught Hatch in the box for a one-touch finish.

Two minutes later, Washington (1-6-10) scored from a set piece. From the side of the box, Sanchez fired a free-kick towards Hatch, who adjusted to the ball grazing a little behind her and used a header from seven yards to score her best seventh goal for the team.

Washington’s lead lasted until the first of six more minutes. Kingsbury made a quick save from Alozie’s header, but the Houston substitute hit the keeper on the rebound and slipped under her.

Overall, Sullivan said: “This has been an extremely difficult time and the way we’ve still been able to attack practice this week and also enjoy each other’s company was really a testament to that character of the players.”

Remarks: Kingsbury, Rodman, Hatch, Sanchez and Sullivan will return to the US national team camp in Kansas City, Kansas, for next Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria. The teams will then meet in Washington on September 6th. Barring injuries, Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett would also have made the US roster. …

Back-up defender Karina Rodriguez was called up to the Mexico squad for Los Angeles-area friendlies against New Zealand and Angel City from the NWSL. …

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

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