Arguably the two most improved teams in the NWSL face off tonight as the Washington Spirit start the 2018 season with a long trip out west to face Seattle Reign FC. It’s not an ideal assignment for Washington, as Seattle has historically been their most difficult opponent. The Spirit have lost every single time they’ve played the Reign away from home, and often the games have not been close.
But these are different times for Washington, with this winter’s rebuild feeling for all the world like the start of a new era. Is that enough for the Spirit change their stars in Seattle?
This post will update throughout the game!
Update 11:48pm: Spirit lineup right now: 433 - Bledsoe; Smith, Church, Johnson, Dydasco; Lohman, Sullivan, Banini; Pugh, Hatch, Ordega
Update 11:38pm: HELL YEAH JOANNA LOHMAN!
Joanna Lohman squeezes through traffic in the box and banks it off the left post to get one back in the 68th minute. pic.twitter.com/jv1ytz656x— Ride of the Valkyries (@rovalks) March 25, 2018
Update 11:26pm: Halftime sub for the Spirit sees Joanna Lohman make her return from last year’s torn ACL, replacing Tori Huster. Sullivan is now playing the anchor role in midfield.
Update 10:55pm: We’re a few minutes late on this one, but it’s 2-0 Reign. Smith tried to intercept a pass, but the ball got away from her and Seattle pounced. Rumi Utsugi picked out Rapinoe, who then slipped Jodie Taylor in behind the defense to finish.
Update 10:27pm: Seattle 1-0 Washington. Megan Rapinoe turned a 26 yard free kick into a pretty spectacular opening goal. Tough break, but you have to tip your hat to the USWNT star.
Update 9:41pm: Here are the starting lineups for both sides:
Per the Spirit, Rebecca Quinn is not on the roster due to U.S. visa trouble. They had flown her out expecting the issue to be cleared up, but whatever the issue is, it hasn’t yet cleared up.
Key player: Aubrey Bledsoe
You can make a case for Mallory Pugh, the Spirit’s star attacker, or the rookie duo of Andi Sullivan and Rebecca Quinn, or new striker Ashley Hatch, or defender Taylor Smith (who will be up against Megan Rapinoe). You could even go for former Reign midfielder Havana Solaun trying to put one over on her old team.
However, given the harsh history of Washington’s trips to, er, Washington, I’m going to go with the Spirit’s likely starting goalkeeper. Even with the substantial improvements Washington made this offseason, they’ve barely had any time to train together as a group. Seattle, meanwhile, will be able to call on a largely familiar attack, and the new pieces (Allie Long and former Spirit striker Jodie Taylor) are both regulars for top national teams.
Bledsoe figures to have a busy night in front of her, both in terms of the standard shot-stopping duties all goalkeepers have and the task of organizing the team in front of her. If Bledsoe can help the Spirit keep their shape and produce a few big stops, they might actually be able to break the hex that Seattle has had over them for years.
Location: Memorial Stadium (Seattle, WA)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Rebecca Quinn, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Havana Solaun; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Estefania Banini
Cali Farquharson (tibial stress injury) and Rose Lavelle (hamstring) are out via injury, while Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy) and Arielle Ship (ACL rehab) are not eligible to play, though Ship could be activated sometime next month. With Tiffany Weimer not yet in town after being re-acquired late this week, Washington’s only healthy player who isn’t likely to travel is goalkeeper Kelsey Wys.
However, keep tabs on Huster, who did not play in either preseason game, with head coach Jim Gabarra citing a need to rest her after two straight years without an offseason due to loan spells in Australia. If she’s not able to play just yet, the Spirit will roll with 17 players. On the other hand, if they’ve just been preserving Huster to start today, she’ll probably replace Solaun.
Projected Reign starting 11: (433) - Michelle Betos; Theresa Nielsen, Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes, Christen Westphal; Allie Long, Rumi Utsugi, Jess Fishlock; Nahomi Kawasumi, Jodie Taylor, Megan Rapinoe
Yael Averbuch (illness), Kristen McNabb (knee), and Kiersten Dallstream (hamstring) are listed as out on the league’s injury report, while starting goalkeeper Lydia Williams and Steph Catley (one of the best fullbacks in the world) have joined Australia ahead of next month’s Asian Cup tournament. Nonetheless, Seattle’s lineup is really strong, particularly in the midfield and up top.
Referee: Katja Koroleva
Available TV: None
What do we have to say about it?: We traded questions with the fine folks at Sounder at Heart ahead of this one, and we’ve also bundled all of our season preview stuff in one place for easy consumption.
What are you drinking?: Staying up late and coming off of a D.C. United game that seems like it’ll be tough, I might need to make a cup of coffee with a shot or so of Frangelico.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.