There are so many storylines to talk about when it comes to the Washington Spirit hosting the Orlando Pride. It’s the first time the NWSL game of the week has come to the Soccerplex, which makes it a showcase for the club and its fans. It’s also Ali Krieger’s first game back in the DMV, against a club that she played four seasons for and left under stormy circumstances. Alex Morgan could possibly be in line for her first start since her loan to Olympique Lyon ended. All that, and world-class playmaker Marta is playing in the Washington region for the first time since 2010.
For the Spirit, though, everything on that list is secondary to a simple fact: last week’s arguably unfortunate lost to Boston, combined with a Houston Dash win elsewhere, left Washington back at the bottom of the table. If the Spirit are going to push their way up the table, home games against mid-table teams like Orlando have to be wins. That’s the storyline that will matter in the Washington team huddle just before kickoff.
Key player: Tori Huster
Orlando’s attack has been able to create chances all year long, which is no surprise given that Marta - er, that is, five-time World Player of the Year Marta - is the centerpiece of their attack. Marta has created 31 chances this season, easily the most in the NWSL, and her international teammate Camila (who plays wide but tends to drift inside on a regular basis) has chipped in 13 more.
Considering the fact that Washington has struggled against speed all season, and that the Pride had three really fast forwards even before Morgan returned from France to run the channels, the job for the Spirit is to limit Orlando to a certain kind of service. Recently, the Chicago Red Stars closed off the center, preventing through balls and forcing Orlando to rely mostly on crosses. That’s not what the Pride are good at, and Chicago walked off with a shutout win.
Huster, as a result, needs to be at her very best. If she and the rest of the Washington midfield can make Orlando play a style they’re not good at, the Spirit will be dictating the terms, and they’ll have a great chance at a much-needed win. If Marta, Camila, and the rest get going, however, this is going to be a tough game.
Location: Maryland Soccerplex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 3:50pm Eastern (with the broadcast starting at 3:30pm)
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Stephanie Labbe; Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Tori Huster, Kristie Mewis; Havana Solaun, Francisca Ordega, Mallory Pugh
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Kassey Kallman, Caprice Dydasco, Estefania Banini, Cheyna Williams, Arielle Ship
At home, look for Jim Gabarra to bring the more attack-minded Kleiner in at left back for Kallman (something we’ll probably see happening all year between home and away games, unless Johnson remains the starting right back and Dydasco takes over on the left). Pugh will return as a starter after last week’s strong appearance as a sub, making Williams a super-sub possibility. Gabarra will also look to get Banini more minutes, whether it’s for Solaun, Mewis, or even Dougherty Howard (which would mean asking Mewis to play the #8 role).
It seems probable that the Spirit will again look to expand Dydasco’s minutes, as the end game has to be to get one of the best fullbacks in the NWSL up to a starter’s level of fitness and sharpness ASAP. However, it’s possible that Dydasco’s entry means a switch in formation, as Gabarra has been willing to change things up on a regular basis.
Alex Morgan, after an injury and some setbacks at the end of her loan with Olympique Lyon, played 25 minutes last week. While I’m sure there’s pressure on Tom Sermanni to start her as soon as humanly possible (this game is on national TV, after all), it seems safe to expect her to come in off the bench once again. Instead, Spencer - a Maryland Terrapin who spent 2013 with the Spirit - seems the most likely starter, with Orlando looking to use her speed in the manner discussed above.
Elsewhere, Camila has played on both wings since Marta’s arrival, and it could be that she’s on the right flank while one of several possible winger/forwards ends up on the left. Sermanni has been forced to protect a flimsy back four by deploying natural center back Kennedy alongside Monica (who also has CB experience), while Krieger has played centrally rather than her traditional right back role. Bledsoe will continue to stand in for the injured Ashlyn Harris, yet another former Spirit player who plays for the Pride these days.
Referee: Henrik Karlsson
Available TV: Lifetime
Available streaming: MyLifetime.com and the MyLifetime app
What are you drinking?: No adult beverages in the press box, so I’ll be drinking water. I might hit the nearby 7-11 for a Slurpee on my way in though.
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