The math is simple for the Washington Spirit tonight: a win or tie against the Western New York Flash will clinch a playoff spot for the Spirit, who are 6 points clear of the rest of the NWSL at the moment. If the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars lose their games tomorrow, the Spirit will need just one point to clinch the NWSL Shield. Things are, in short, going well.
However, winning tonight won’t be easy. The Flash are the NWSL’s highest-scoring team, with five more goals on the year than the Spirit (who are second in that category). Forward Lynn Williams is leading the NWSL in goals scored with 8, while her strike partner Jessica McDonald is tied for second with 7 (and is tied with Tobin Heath atop the league’s assist table). Under head coach Paul Riley, the Flash have emphasized a fast, direct style of play and a physical approach.
For Washington, there are reinforcements coming. The bronze medal trio of Diana Matheson, Stephanie Labbe, and Shelina Zadorsky are back from the Canadian national team, potentially adding three starters to a lineup that did not miss a step during the Olympics. With the Spirit’s central midfield combination of Christine Nairn, Tori Huster, and Joanna Lohman dominating games lately, it seems likely that Matheson will play as a wide forward.
Head coach Jim Gabarra will have some choices to make with regards to Labbe (whose shoes were filled quite well by Kelsey Wys) and Zadorsky, as the situation at center back is so competitive that Megan Oyster has found herself on the bench lately. Whitney Church, the recent partner for Estelle Johnson, is doubtful for this game with a hamstring strain, but that still leaves Gabarra choosing between three very strong options against a Western New York team that will urgently look to test the back four.
The Flash will be desperate to get a result in this game, as they are holding onto the NWSL’s final playoff spot. While they can’t lose that spot this weekend, a win paired with a loss by the Seattle Reign tomorrow would put them within one win of clinching a playoff berth of their own.
Location: Maryland Soccerplex (Boyds, MD)
Kick-off time: 7:00pm Eastern
Available TV: None
Available streaming: NWSL Soccer, free and non geo-blocked
Treat this as the gamethread for tonight’s match.