Unable to overcome a 3-0 first half deficit the Washington Spirit lost their first game of the season Saturday at Providence Park in Oregon by a 4-1 margin.
While the Boyds-based team remains on top of the National Women’s Soccer League standings at 4-1-1, the Spirit now have company for first place from the 4-1-1 Chicago Red Stars.
Both teams lead the 10-team league with 13 points.
With the win, Portland rises to third place at 3-0-3 with 12 points, the same amount as 4-2 Orlando Pride.
Tobin Heath led off the Thorns’ scoring in the 26th minute on a corner kick serviced perfectly to Lindsey Horan, who headed it into back of the net.
Portland’s luck doubled six minutes later.
That’s when Christine Sinclair slotted a shot toward the net that deflected off Spirit keeper Stephanie Labbé and into Spirit defender Alyssa Kleiner, rebounding off her body and bouncing into the goal to put the home team up 2-0.
As the beat of the Thorns attack played on, the Spirit fell off the pace while Washington’s usual confident composure eroded.
Heath chiseled a large bit of composure from the Spirit with a goal during the final seconds of first half stoppage time from a Sinclair assist.
Labbé stepped off her line to slide tackle the ball away from Heath but Heath chipped the ball over Labbé leaving the goalie on the ground as she jumped over the grounded keeper and tapped it into the net.
Despite a drizzle and a 54 degree chill, the Spirit emerged energized in the second half, with the Spirit defense matching the Thorns’ pace.
Spirit forward Crystal Dunn and defense player Meaghan Klingenberg jostled each for control of the ball in the 54th minute.
Dunn prevailed and crossed the ball to midfielder Joanna Lohman, who headed the ball past airborne keeper Adrianna Franch.
It would be the Spirit’s first and only goal.
Portland resumed its aggressive attacks resulting in a yellow card against Meg Norris for running into Labbé. One minute later, Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn and Thorns forward Nadia Nadim tangled feet, fell and jawed with each other, leading to two more yellow cards, though Nairn did not physically respond to Nadim’s taunts.
At the 78th minute, Portland’s Meg Morris dribbled a loose ball past Spirit defender Kliener and Labbé and booted the fourth and final Portland goal of the game.
Throughout the second half, the Spirit never slowed down and they did not lose their composure. They played a physically rough game with a team that was bigger and taller than they were.
The emerging rivalry between the Thorns and Spirit created a game as physical if not more so than their previous meeting May 7 at the Maryland Soccerplex, which ended in a scoreless draw.
For the second straight meeting between the two teams, Portland drew four yellow cards and Washington drew one.
The only chance these two teams have of meeting again this season will be in post-season play.
Up next for the Spirit is a May 27 away game against the seventh-place Houston Dash (2-1-3). Including the clash against Houston, Washington has 14 games left in the 20-game season, scheduled to conclude Sept. 24.
The Spirit defeated the Dash 1-0 in Boyds May 14.