After three straight games where they did well enough to win only to lose or tie, the Washington Spirit travel cross-country to take on Portland Thorns FC tonight. Washington’s best performance of the season is likely their previous meeting with the Thorns, who they managed to bottle up for all 90 minutes at the Maryland Soccerplex en route to a 1-0 victory. It’ll take an even better performance this time around if the Spirit are to get a much-needed win.
Key player: Meggie Dougherty Howard
Dougherty Howard has quietly been among the NWSL’s best rookies this year, firmly establishing herself in central midfield for the Spirit over the past two months. “MDH” is getting it done on both sides of the ball, helping Tori Huster to win the ball back and shield the back four while also currently tied with Kristie Mewis for the team lead in key passes on the season with 15.
Against a Thorns side that could well feature USWNT regulars Allie Long and Lindsey Horan and Canadian legend Christine Sinclair as a midfield trio, Dougherty Howard is going to have to be on top of her game. With Portland often playing a physical brand of soccer, the US under-23 midfielder needs to be at her hard-edged best while also taking care of the ball. Otherwise, the Spirit will end up spending too much time on the back foot, which is a bad idea as we saw the last time Washington flew out to the Pacific coast.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (442) - Stephanie Labbe; Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman; Havana Solaun, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Mallory Pugh; Kristie Mewis, Cheyna Williams
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Caprice Dydasco, Alyssa Kleiner, Lindsay Agnew, Yanara Aedo, Cali Farquharson, Arielle Ship
Estefania Banini didn’t make the trip, having been ruled out by a hamstring strain picked up during the week. With Line Sigvardsen Jensen away on international duty, Jim Gabarra has exactly 18 players, so there are no mysteries in who made the trip. That means Farquharson will make the bench as she continues her comeback from last season’s torn ACL. Pugh and Williams could swap spots, while there’s also the possibility of Pugh and Mewis switching spots as well.
Projected Portland starting 11: (343) - Adriana Franch; Celeste Boureille, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges; Ashleigh Sykes, Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, Meghan Klingenberg; Hayley Raso, Christine Sinclair, Taylor Lussi
Defensive midfielder Amandine Henry is away with France at Euro 2017, as are attackers Nadia Nadim and Dagny Brynjarsdottir. Dealing with that last week, former Spirit head coach Mark Parsons changed his formation from 4231 to this 343, with some flexibility up front. Sometimes Sinclair will drop in as a #10 with Raso and Lussi moving into the middle as forwards, whereas other times they’ll form a line of three.
The fact that it worked against first-place North Carolina points to this formation being retained, though a return to the 4231 could see Klingenberg could move back to left back, with Sykes switching to the left wing, Sinclair playing as the attacking midfielder full-time, and Lussi leading the line.
Referee: Michael Radchuk
Available TV: None
What are you drinking?: Hopefully, I’ll be home right when this one kicks off, and as I said in our USMNT post what I expect is a couple glasses of water followed by a gin and tonic. Specifically, Tanqueray gin and Fever Tree tonic.
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