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SALT LAKE CITY — Somebody from Utah was going to top the National Women’s Soccer League standings at the end of Saturday night’s match between Utah Royals FC and the host Washington Spirit.
The winner was Ashley Hatch — for the Spirit.
The former BYU star had a goal and nearly bagged an assist to lift the Washington Spirit to a 2-0 win over Utah Royals FC in a battle of league heavyweights Saturday evening at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland.
The win lifts the Spirit (5-1-1, 16 points) atop the NWSL standings, three points in front of Utah (4-1-2).
"The way that we defended wasn’t effective enough, and that’s on me," Utah coach Laura Harvey said. "The players have given everything the last two months … and I didn’t do them justice tonight. Tonight’s on me.
"We’ll do better. I’ll make sure we are prepared better. Washington is a good side. But we couldn’t solve the things that we needed to solve tonight. We tried, and the players worked hard to make it work, but we’ve got to do better."
The Spirit opened the match strong, and Hatch gave the hosts an early advantage. The one-time NWSL rookie of the year took a touch from Tori Huster at an odd angle around the edge of the 18-yard box in the 23rd minute, but ripped a right-footed shot inside the far post to give Washington its first advantage.
The Spirit held dynamic Royals striker Amy Rodriguez without a shot until the 35th minute, a rip from the middle of the box that Aubrey Bledsoe quickly parried away. But Washington out-shot the Royals 4-1 in the first 30 minutes, and took a 6-3 margin into halftime.
The Spirit only put one of those shots on goal — Hatch’s fantastic finish — leading to the hosts looking for another marker.
The moment nearly came in the 70th minute, when Hatch’s shot from the right side was deflected by Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. But the save fell to Dorian Bailey, who slotted home the goal to give the Spirit a 2-0 advantage.
Washington out-shot the Royals 15-7, but Utah turned its chances into six shots on target. Bledsoe turned aside every one, making six saves to none for Utah's Barnhart.
The Royals, like the rest of the NWSL, were playing without its seven internationals headed to the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. But to make matters worse, Utah midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta was suspended two matches for an uncalled infraction during the Royals’ 2-0 win over Orlando last week.
In her stead, Makenzy Doniak started her first match of the season for Utah, joining Gunny Jonsdottir, Mandy Laddish and Vero Boquete in head coach Laura Harvey's midfield.
But Harvey wasn't out to make excuses Saturday night.
"We just have to be better," she said. "We have to be better on the ball. We have to be better defensively. I think tonight will be a good thing for us. We can learn from it. We learned from the Houston game.
"You can’t play against a team like them, and let them pass the ball around like they did. We had a game plan. It didn’t work, but we will be better in preparation for Sky Blue."
The Royals are off until June 15, when the Utah will host New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC at 8 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium. The match will be streamed on Yahoo Sports and KSL.com.