July was aggravating for the Washington Spirit, who managed to play well enough to win every one of their four games only to come away with a grand total of one point. Against a short-handed Sky Blue FC tonight, Washington needs to reward the good work they’ve been doing with a mistake-free performance at the back and some sharp finishing up front. If they’re going to climb out of the NWSL cellar, this week - with games coming up on Tuesday and Saturday - is where they have to start turning positive performances into victories.
Key player: Cheyna Williams
It seems likely that Williams will be playing out wide, which means matching up against a Sky Blue player that is not first choice. With the New Jersey club showing a pronounced tendency towards crazy games - that 4-3 Spirit win from a while back is maybe only in the top 3 for wildest Sky Blue games this year - there will be plenty of opportunities for Williams to run at her defender.
She’s going to have to take advantage. Even with Sky Blue missing their all-world striker Sam Kerr, this is a team that creates scoring chances and goals at a high rate, and Washington has not shown much of an ability to shut down opposing attacks all year. In all likelihood, the Spirit will have to score a few goals to win tonight, and that will probably require a big game from Williams, who has only shown her best soccer in flashes this season.
Location: Yurcak Field (Piscataway, NJ)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (442) - Stephanie Labbe; Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Shelina Zadorsky, Caprice Dydasco; Havana Solaun, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Tori Huster, Cheyna Williams; Kristie Mewis, Arielle Ship
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Kassey Kallman, Alyssa Kleiner, Lindsay Agnew, Yanara Aedo, Cali Farquharson
With Mallory Pugh having played last night for the USWNT, Estefania Banini still out with a hamstring strain, Line Sigvardsen Jensen away with Denmark (and hopefully not hurt too badly after needing treatment for an apparent knee injury in yesterday’s semifinal win over Austria), and Francisca Ordega still on the 45 day disabled list, the Spirit will only have 17 players available tonight. Jim Gabarra will have to make do with only six of the possible seven substitutes.
This set-up is a 442 defensively, but when the Spirit go forward, look for Mewis to drop off the front line and for Solaun and Williams to push up as wide forwards.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (442) - Kailen Sheridan; Nikki Stanton, Erica Skroski, Christie Pearce, Kayla Mills; Daphne Corboz, Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Taylor Lytle; McKenzie Meehan, Maya Hayes
This is a tricky one, because Sam Kerr and Kelley O’Hara are both out for the same reason that Pugh is. Those two are mainstays, and when you throw in some injuries (Erin Simon is on the DL, while Kayla Mills and Leah Galton are listed as doubtful to play), figuring out who will get the nod becomes a bit tricky. Generally Christy Holly has this 442 set up with both outside midfielders drifting inside, making room for overlapping fullbacks to push up aggressively. This is a team that has no problem getting into high-scoring shootouts.
One thing to watch for: Natasha Kai has been making the bench after offseason ankle surgery, and could take part tonight.
Referee: Gustavo Solorio
Available TV: None
What are you drinking?: I am writing this early on Friday morning, so I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to feel like by kickoff. My guess? A Moscow Mule, but served in a chilled glass because I don’t own a copper mug. Take that Big Copper!
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