Tonight at the Maryland Soccerplex, the Washington Spirit will complete their four-game season series against Sky Blue FC. If their previous meetings are any indicator, this should be a very close game. All three prior meetings this year have been decided by one goal, and in each case the losing team could reasonably argue that they deserved at least a draw.
Back in April, Ali Krieger’s "shross" goal ended up boosting the Spirit on the road, giving them a lead in an otherwise tense game with few chances. Washington ended up winning 2-1 that day, but the New Jersey-based club has defeated the Spirit twice since then. Just over a month ago, the Spirit lost 2-1 to Sky Blue at home thanks in part to two assists from English winger Leah Galton. Not only is it the Spirit’s only home loss in 2016, but Sky Blue’s two goals are the only goals Washington has conceded at the Plex all season.
Last week, Galton was again the difference between the two teams. This time, it was a long run and powerful finish after the Spirit fell asleep on a brutally hot day in northern New Jersey. Despite a push to equalize that included a shot off the post from Cheyna Williams, Washington ended up falling 1-0. Sky Blue deserved some credit, making it happen without first-choice central midfielders Raquel Rodriguez and Sarah Killion (on top of Olympic absentees Kelley O'Hara and Sam Kerr). Rodriguez will return, while Killion (quad strain) and Galton (hip) are both listed as questionable on yesterday’s injury report, while Danielle Schulmann (thigh), Caroline Stanley (shoulder), and Kim DeCesare (knee) are all out. The Spirit, for their part, only have Laura Del Rio - who has been out for the whole season with an ankle injury - missing out due to injury.
This game will have major playoff implications for both sides. The Spirit are currently tied with Portland Thorns FC on 26 points, but sit in second place due to the first tiebreaker (head-to-head results). With the Western New York Flash lurking just one point back, and both Sky Blue and Chicago on 22 points, a loss could see the Spirit’s seemingly solid hold on a playoff spot suddenly come into question. Sky Blue, meanwhile, holds a tiebreaker advantage over the Red Stars for the final spot in the postseason, but must worry about the very talented Seattle Reign (who have 20 points ahead of this weekend’s intriguing Pacific northwest clash with the Thorns) lurking just outside the playoff places.
While the Spirit will continue to do without their quintet of Olympians - Krieger is joined by Crystal Dunn with the USWNT, while Diana Matheson, Stephanie Labbe, and Shelina Zadorsky are all with Canada - they will get a chance to incorporate a new face. Line Sigvardsen Jensen joined the club for training this week and is eligible to make her first appearance since signing with the Spirit two weeks ago.
Washington’s main goal for the night, assuming Galton plays, will be to shut down the English winger. They’ve been troubled by the Hofstra product beyond just her goal and two assists in recent games, and have to control possession and dictate where the game is played to prevent Galton from becoming influential. They’ll also have to deal with Sky Blue’s willingness to high press on the road. Going the other way, the Spirit should be able to create some danger on the flanks by attacking Sky Blue’s inexperienced fullbacks. Christine Nairn’s set piece delivery may also be a factor based on the number of free kick chances they’ve created in the past couple of weeks.
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.