The Washington Spirit return to action after a sixteen day break between games that included the dismissal of head coach Kris Ward. Former Spirit player Angela Salem will step in as acting interim head coach as they face third place Houston Dash, who are fighting to remain in the top 4 to host a playoff game.
When and where
Location: PNC Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm ET
Referee: Adorae Monroy
Available streaming: Paramount+ (U.S.) & Twitch (int’l)
Who all gon’ be there
Dash team news: OUT - Allysha Chapman (right knee), Makamae Gomera-Stevens (SEI - left knee), Kelcie Hedge (SEI - right knee), Annika Schmidt (SEI - right knee); QUESTIONABLE - None
Spirit team news: OUT - Tori Huster (SEI - left lower leg), Kelley O’Hara (hip), Julia Roddar (knee), Emily Sonnett (SEI - foot); QUESTIONABLE - None
4 things to look for
How the Spirit cope with the Ebony Salmon of it all
Ebony Salmon joined the Dash on June 27 and has scored 8 goals in 8 matches, putting her 4th in this season’s golden boot race. Salmon has the ability to beat defenders with speed, deft dribbling, and a knack for pressuring opposition defenses into mistakes.
This makes her a dangerous match for the Spirit, whose season has been marred in part by costly defensive mistakes and spotty late-game performances. In addition to being on a scoring hot streak, Salmon has proven extremely accurate during her time with the Houston Dash. She has converted both of her penalties with the remaining 6 goals netted from just 15 shots on target. Washington’s defense must be alert and on-point to keep Salmon from adding to her tally. ✍️ -Annie Elliott
Time for Trinity Rodman to start being a little selfish?
According to American Soccer Analysis, Trinity Rodman dropped four goals and three assists from 5.07 xG+xA (2.10 expected goals + 2.97 expected assists) in the Challenge Cup. In the regular season however, Rodman has four goals and just one assist on 7.52 xG+xA.
Some of this is defenses adjusting to Rodman’s tendencies, but the bulk has been teammates missing chances she’s created. Breaking down the total, Rodman’s lone assist is from an expected number of 3.31. Though Rodman is sixth in shots taken this season (40), she’s such a rare talent that no one would complain if she crept near Alex Morgan (52) or Sophia Smith’s (60) numbers,
While exceptional vision and nearly unlimited passing range makes setting up teammates a natural part of Rodman’s game, defenders would likely choose to risk an attempted cross over coping with her 1v1. Sophia Smith became a prolific scorer by forcing herself to keep shots low and expanding her shooting angles. Rodman has the tools to follow suit, and with the playoffs out of sight, those adjustments could start now. ✍️ -André Carlisle
In search of defensive solutions
With Emily Sonnett out for the remainder of the season and both Kelley O’Hara and Julia Roddar unavailable today due to injury, the Spirit are short on experienced defensive-minded players. Outside of Sam Staab, who has played ever minute of every match so far, and Amber Brooks, the only other healthy player with a start at center back is Karina Rodriguez.
Considering the defensive shakiness toward the end of matches that has become habit this season, assistant coach Angela Salem has a big call to make. The Spirit have played from the start in a back-4 formation in every game except one, in which they experimented with a back 3 in an effort to slow down North Carolina’s counterattack. Facing the Dash, another high-pressing quick-striking team, Salem could opt for an extra defender to help cover space after losses of possession.
However, with just seven healthy defenders on the roster and only three healthy center backs, it might prove too risky a decision. Regardless of the final decision, center backs Sam Staab and Amber Brooks are likely to form the core defensive unit, and it will be up to them to guide the rest of the defensive unit. ✍️ -Annie Elliott
Angela Salem’s coaching debut
Sure, Salem might be just over five months into her career as a professional tier coach, but every coach, new or ancient, has their own brand and ideas. Though she hasn’t had enough time to implement any significant structural changes, even small tweaks can yield new angles and combinations. It helps that Salem’s career as a midfielder was noted for her intelligence in reading, reacting and solving the chaotic movements of players around her.
President of Soccer Operations, Mark Krikorian, stated that an interim coach has been identified and is going through background checks. If that process is completed smoothly, it’s likely this will be Salem’s lone chance to prowl the sideline as head coach this season. Let’s make her 1-0, because that would be a neat. ✍️ -André Carlisle