After a strong start to the 2016 season, the Washington Spirit has won only one of its past four games. In addition to regaining their early-season ways, the team faces a new challenge: dealing with the loss of its five Olympic players. Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger will be in pre-Olympic training camp with the United States, and both are very likely to make the USWNT's final Olympic roster. Stephanie Labbe, Diana Matheson, and Shelina Zadorsky all made Canada’s Olympic team and are in training camp currently. The NWSL doesn’t play during the Olympics but the Spirit will still miss their Olympic players for around six games as the national teams prep for the tournament.
The Spirit has five games in July which all five players will definitely miss. Because of a postponed game, the Spirit play a rescheduled match at Houston on August 18. Since the women’s semifinals are on August 16, the American contingent is strongly expected to be busy when Washington makes up their game with the Dash. Canada’s chances in the Olympics aren’t great but eight of the twelve teams advance to the quarterfinals, which are held on August 12. The Spirit’s trio of Canadians are all starters with their national team and it’s difficult to imagine the three playing four games in nine days and then returning to Houston to play again six days later.
Bar a shocking upset, the Stars and Stripes will be in the semifinals, which means the Americans will be playing in Brazil until August 19. The Spirit play at Orlando on August 26. Sure, Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn will be back in the US, but after playing potentially six games in seventeen days it wouldn’t be surprising if the duo played limited minutes or not at all.
So how does missing five key players for up to seven games affect the Spirit?
The backline has held strong this year. Washington has gotten a shutout in over half of their games, and they've only let up seven goals in nine matches. With Krieger, Zadorsky, and Labbe in Brazil, however, that area of the team will be particularly hard hit.
In net, Kelsey Wys will start in place of Labbe. Wys got her only start of the season against Boston on June 6 and only allowed a penalty kick to get past her. Wys also started last year when Ashlyn Harris was with the national team. Labbe and Wys are pretty comparable and her absence shouldn't be an issue. In the center, Estelle Johnson will replace Zadorsky. Johnson hasn't played this season but started alongside Oyster last year.
At right back, head coach Jim Gabarra has two options to replace Krieger at right back. Whitney Church is one of those potential choices, though she may also be needed as a midfield sub. During the preseason, Gabarra tried out Caprice Dydasco at right back with Church in the midfield. That seems a likelier option at this point.
The only loss here is Diana Matheson but she's no small loss. Matheson is key to combination play through the midfield and she's good in front of goal as well (as illustrated by her four goals on the season). Depending on the backline, the Spirit can deploy Huster, Lohman, and Nairn or put Church in there at the expense of Lohman.
Though Dunn hasn't scored this year, she's tallied four assists and often is the sole spark of the Spirit offense. Gabarra has critiqued his team for playing too individually at times, so maybe the loss of Dunn will force the team to play better as a unit. Up top, Gabarra will likely start Katie Stengel flanked by Estefania Banini and Francisca Ordega. This is the area that's most concerning. Between the loss of Matheson and Dunn, an already-struggling Spirit attack is going to endure more challenges.
This Saturday, the Spirit will call up amateurs Didi Haracic, Haley Rosen, and Alli Murphy. All three play with the Spirit's reserve team in the WPSL. None of them are compensated beyond their expenses but Rosen and Murphy could see some substitute action. Haracic was the backup keeper when the Spirit traveled to Boston.