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Washington Spirit vs. Gotham FC: Time, team news, 3 things to watch

Questions at CB, the promise of fluidity, and saging Andi Sullivan’s knee

NWSL: Washington Spirit at NJ/NY Gotham FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Match number two in the Albertin Montoya era will see struggling NJ/NY Gotham FC come to Audi Field to face the Washington Spirit. Interim coach Hue Menzies has improved the structure and balance of the squad, and midfield addition Victoria Pickett has been terrific, but the team is still looking for the first positive result of his tenure.

Annie Elliott and André Carlisle are here to give you three things to watch that could determine whether or not they’re forced to keep looking another week.

When and where

Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: Saturday, 7pm ET
Referee: Shawn Tehini
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Twitch

Who all gon’ be there

Spirit team news: OUT - Tori Huster (SEI - left lower leg), Emily Sonnett (SEI - foot), Kelley O’Hara (foot), Amber Brooks (yellow card accumulation); QUESTIONABLE - Andi Sullivan (knee)

Gotham team news: OUT - Ashlyn Harris (right knee), Allie Long (maternity leave), Domi Richardson (SEI - right knee); QUESTIONABLE - None

3 things to watch

Help CB Wanted

With starters Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara on the injured list, the Spirit were already short on defenders. Now Amber Brooks, starting center back in the absence of Sonnett, has been suspended for two games, leaving the team scrambling for solutions.

At a press conference earlier this week, interim head coach Albertin Montoya teased Julia Roddar as one possible solution. While Roddar is not an uncommon starter for the Spirit, she hasn’t played center back for the team. Another option is Karina Rodriguez, who has started at center back once for Washington this season and twice during the 2022 Challenge Cup, but hasn’t seen consistent playing time.

With just a week to prepare since Brooks fell afoul of the league’s yellow card accumulation rule, Montoya will have been looking to build off the steady presence of Sam Staab, the Spirit stalwart who has played every minute of the season so far. The ultimate choice of starters could come down to a question of who’s shown the most chemistry with Staab in training this week.

Beyond that, the Spirit defenders may just have to wrap themselves in bubble wrap, be judicious with their fouls, and avoid the flipping of double birds. ✍️ -Annie Elliott

Combinations and relationships

Remember the first goal scored in the Albertin Montoya era? It was a flowing break that involved Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez and Tara McKeown. For a number of reasons — injuries, international duties, etc. — it felt like the first time we’d seen them all so directly involved in the crafting of a goal.

Montoya beamed after the match when discussing the move, saying he wants to see more of that. It’s unlikely he scripted every step of the sequence in just one week of training, and even fewer sessions for USWNT internationals (Hatch, Sanchez), but it’s something he’s determined to cultivate in his short time here. Not just those four, but all around the pitch, instructing players to maneuver off the ball to present options to the player in possession, while simultaneously knowing your own options should you receive the ball.

It’s a lot to think about, but doable, particularly with the level of soccer intelligence and creativity among the group. With another week of training, plus a game film to supplement lessons learned, it’ll be interesting to see how much Montoya can implement. ✍️ -André Carlisle

No it’s mine

While Montoya got his first win as interim manager in his first try, Gotham interim coach Hue Menzies is still waiting. However, that doesn’t mean Menzies hasn’t had a significant impact on his team, he has, particularly in keeping possession.

Before Menzies, Gotham won the possession battle in just two of twelve matches (one being vs Portland, who went 3-0 up in the first eleven minutes). Since Menzies, Gotham has only lost the possession battle once in six games (vs North Carolina). Saturday’s opposing coach, Montoya, focuses on combinations and relationships to increase fluidity and unpredictability with the ball, but also to keep hold of the darn thing.

Just having the ball isn’t enough, particularly in the NWSL, but keeping possession in a highly transitional league can limit the breaks a defense has to face. With the budding partnership between midfielders McCall Zerboni and recent trade acquisition Victoria Pickett, Gotham have two solid ball winners. And, in Pickett, also a player who’s extremely difficult to dispossess.

Both teams setting out to control the ball and dictate play from the start should spark a midfield chess match, so let us burn sage for Andi’s knee. ✍️ -André Carlisle