After a stretch in which they played four straight road games (and five of six total games since July 1st), the Washington Spirit return home in dire need of points. Hosting the Boston Breakers, Washington is looking at a situation in which they need to make up a nine point gap in eight games to get into the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Boston - tied with the Spirit on points, and currently ahead only via the head-to-head tiebreaker - is in the exact same situation, giving this game more of an edge than a normal mid-August match. Washington will also be looking to overturn a tough history against the Breakers who they’re just 2W-5D-5L against all-time. Washington’s only home win over Boston ever was last year’s season-opener, and at the start of July the Breakers won 1-0 despite the Spirit creating more than enough chances to put themselves in front in the first hour.
Key player: Havana Solaun
Boston has just 12 goals on the year, by far the worst mark in the NWSL. With Rose Lavelle not quite ready to return from a hamstring strain, the Breakers have struggled quite a bit in terms of creativity. That means that generally, if you get yourself a lead against them, they aren’t coming back. Washington didn’t do this up in Boston, and they paid the price for it.
While Mallory Pugh is the biggest name on the team, and Arielle Ship is coming off of a player of the week performance in New Jersey, the most consistently productive attacking player on the Spirit roster is Solaun. It doesn’t get talked about much, but only four players in the entire league have more goals than her, and only seven players have more assists.
Washington may have Pugh, and they may be likely to field Estefania Banini today, but if the Spirit are going to see off the Breakers (who have the fourth-best defensive record in the NWSL), they’re going to need Solaun to produce a big game.
Location: Maryland Soccerplex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: The broadcast will get going at 3:30pm, with kickoff around 3:50pm.
Projected Spirit starting 11: (442) - Stephanie Labbe; Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Kassey Kallman, Caprice Dydasco; Havana Solaun, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Mallory Pugh; Estefania Banini, Arielle Ship
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner, Kristie Mewis, Lindsay Agnew, Cheyna Williams
This is the third game in short order for the Spirit, but the unusual Friday-Tuesday-Saturday pattern means three days between games both times, which in turn means little rotation is needed.
The only change I expect in the starting lineup is Banini coming in as the second forward/#10. Pugh will move wide left as a result, with Williams making way. Washington will be one player short of a full squad, as Cali Farquharson (excused absence) was added to the injury report, though there’s no word as to what has caused that absence.
That means Zadorsky staying on the bench, though Washington’s defensive struggles in Orlando certainly leave the door open for her to return at center back. We might also see Mewis back in the team ahead of Banini, as the former Breaker’s toughness may help get the Spirit back on course after Tuesday’s showing.
Projected Boston starting 11: (433) - Abby Smith; Julie King, Megan Oyster, Amanda Frisbie, Alyssa Chapman; Morgan Andrews, Angela Salem, Rosie White; Midge Purce, Katie Stengel, Adriana Leon
Boston is down to their final four healthy defenders, and even Chapman is listed as doubtful. If she hadn’t been busy chirping at the Spirit on the NWSL Instagram yesterday, I’d have been surprised she was even on the trip. If the groin strain that has her on the injury report prevents her from starting, the situation is a mess. We could see Frisbie wide, King moving into the middle, and Purce playing right back? Or possibly Salem dropping that deep, despite what she gives away in size. Like I said, they’re down to bare bones.
Elsewhere, Stengel has started two straight games over Natasha Dowie, and it makes sense to play her against a club that recently cut her loose. Tiffany Weimer (another former Spirit player...Boston has several) is also in contention to start on either wing. This formation may look more like a 4231, with White pushing up and Andrews dropping in alongside Salem.
Referee: Christina Unkel
Available TV: Lifetime
Available streaming: MyLifetime.com and the MyLifetime app
What are you drinking?: Probably nothing more remarkable than an iced coffee.
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