The Washington Spirit have a big opportunity tonight to turn a recent uptick in overall performance level into a move up the standings. Facing the Houston Dash for the third and final time in the regular season, a win for Washington would at least guarantee that the Spirit get out of last place. However, with 9th place Boston and 8th place Kansas City both on the road tonight, Washington could jump up to 7th with the right set of results.
However, it’s never easy to play in Houston during the summer, and even with Carli Lloyd suspended and Kealia Ohai out injured for the Dash, the Spirit have their own worries. Washington hasn’t won a road game yet, despite holding late leads in Orlando and Chicago and clearly outplaying Boston. Making sure to turn good road performances into wins is going to be key in digging out of the early season hole the Spirit created for themselves.
Key player: Shelina Zadorsky
It almost seems like the Spirit play two very different kind of matches. They’ve had wide open, high-scoring games (with 4-3, 6-2 and 3-2 scorelines), but they’ve also had eight games with only one or two total goals scored by both teams (including five different 1-0 results). Going on the road and playing in hot, muggy conditions - it’ll be in the mid-80s and humid, which is not at all a shock to anyone familiar with Houston’s weather - makes it very difficult to play the shootout style.
For Zadorsky, that means helping keep the Spirit organized against an opponent that doesn’t play like most NWSL sides. Under interim coach Omar Morales, the Dash have played out of a 4312 with both forwards staying wide, allowing a nominal attacking midfielder (normally Lloyd, but probably Janine Beckie tonight) to jump in and become a center forward later in attacks than is usual. Between that and slashing runs from those strikers coming from out wide, the angles of attack are a lot different than normal.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (442) - Stephanie Labbe; Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman; Cheyna Williams, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Estefania Banini; Kristie Mewis, Mallory Pugh
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Alyssa Kleiner, Caprice Dydasco, Havana Solaun, Arielle Ship, Yanara Aedo, Lindsay Agnew
Jim Gabarra said last week that he wants his team attacking out of a 433 and defending out of a 442, but on the road we’re going to probably see more of the latter. There’s not too much of a mystery about the back four, though there is always the chance that Dydasco (who had a great 2016 as a fullback) gets a start on at either right or left back.
The big question is about who will replace Ordega. Gabarra actually used Pugh as a center forward the last time these teams met, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see today. Mewis would come in as the second forward/#10 in that case. I also suspect that maintaining a balance between speed and technical types - something Gabarra generally seems to prefer - will lead to Williams getting a start over Solaun (though it could be Banini instead).
Projected Houston starting 11: (4312) - Jane Campbell; Poliana, Amber Brooks, Janine Van Wyk, Cami Levin; Andressa, Morgan Brian, Bruna Benites/Caity Heap; Janine Beckie; Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince
With Lloyd suspended, the Dash will have to move either Beckie or Andressa up into her attacking midfield role. Beckie seems like the more likely choice, which opens up a spot for either Benites or Heap. Ohai - who scored when Houston beat the Spirit 1-0 back in April - is out with a torn ACL, which has meant a starting job for Prince, the speedy Canadian rookie forward. Brian was moved up to probable after missing last week’s game, but if she’s not ready to start yet, Cami Privett will deputize at the base of the midfield.
Referee: Christopher Spivey
Available TV: None
What do we have to say about it?: We explored how the Spirit will deal with Ordega’s injury on Thursday.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be drinking a few adult beverages earlier in the day, so when this gets going I’ll be knocking back water or iced tea.
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