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Washington Spirit vs. San Diego Wave FC: Time, team news, 3 things to watch

Big game, bigger stage

NWSL: Washington Spirit at San Diego Wave FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Spirit return to Audi Field for the first time since July to take on San Diego Wave FC. The Spirit will be looking to break their 16-game winless streak, while the Wave will aim to regain first place in the league. Annie Elliott and André Carlisle will provide all you need to know going into the match, including what to expect from new interim coach Albertin Montoya’s first game in charge.

When and where

Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: Saturday, 1pm ET
Referee: Karen Callado
Available TV: CBS(!)
Available streaming: Paramount+ (U.S.) & Twitch (int’l)

Who all gon’ be there

Spirit team news: OUT - Tori Huster (SEI - left lower leg), Emily Sonnett (SEI - foot), Kelley O’Hara (hip), Andi Sullivan (knee); QUESTIONABLE - None

Wave team news: OUT - None; QUESTIONABLE - None

3 things to watch

Albertin Montoya’s first game
Today’s match will mark the debut of interim head coach Albertin Montoya. With only a 5-game tenure planned for Montoya, he has a limited time to make his mark on the team. However, fans shouldn’t expect too much change — at least not yet.

Montoya has only been on the job for about a week, and essential starters Andi Sullivan, Aubrey Kingsbury, Ashley Sanchez, and Ashley Hatch were away on USWNT duty for most of that time. The four U.S. call-ups only rejoined Spirit practices after the final friendly against Nigeria this past Tuesday.

Still, any change in coaching could make a difference for a team that has been so close to victory so many times. Hopefully Montoya — who has loads of experience working with young players — was able to start instilling useful habits. Increased confidence (and playing time) in some of the Spirit’s many youngsters could help the team claim their second victory this season, which would at least stave off last place for another week. ✍️ -Annie Elliott

The deep end doesn’t get much deeper
Not only will Montoya be coaching his first NWSL match, it will be live on big CBS and against a team that sat at the top of the table until Portland’s victory over Orlando last night. When asked about this being his welcome to the NWSL, Montoya heaped praise on Alex Morgan, Taylor Kornieck and Naomi Girma, smiled and noted “It’s quite the task we have ahead of us.”

During the presser, Montoya largely spoke about the teaching he’s doing to help players find better situations on the pitch. From body positioning when receiving the ball, angle, weight and direction of touches, and building in-action relationships, it’s been a crash course.

It’s clear Montoya isn’t (at least not yet) looking to make his stay permanent, but believes his more instructive approach can clean up the mistakes or missed opportunities that have plagued the Spirit this season. While the Wave provide a massive test, the reality of the table removes some pressure. Montoya knows he has a talented team, and if the energy of a new appointment and new habits pay off, he just may see his squad pull off an upset on national television. ✍️ -André Carlisle

Who’s the captain now?
Unfortunately for Albertin and the Spirit, the three outfield players who have been consistent on-field leaders are all out for today’s match. Andi Sullivan has a knee concern that was picked up during international duty, while Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett missed callups with hip and foot injuries. Sonnett was placed on the season ending injury list in late August, but the hope that O’Hara would recover by matchday proved not enough.

For a team that has endured a lot of individual mistakes and a propensity to be rattled in late game situations, not having any of these leaders on the pitch could lead to familiar problems, particularly against a top side. However, there are still veterans in the squad. Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury is a strong voice, as is defender Amber Brooks. However, in the long run it might be better if one of the young stars like Ashley Sanchez or Trinity Rodman stepped into the role as another phase of their evolution. ✍️ -André Carlisle