Last week, the Washington Spirit more or less gave a summary of where they are as a team right now. The two goals they managed against North Carolina are the only goals the Courage have given up all season, and their performance was significantly improved from a 3-0 defeat to the same opposition late in the preseason. However, they also conceded four goals, and have conceded more shots than anyone else in the NWSL. Tonight against Portland Thorns FC, the Spirit need to produce their strongest defensive performance of the season if they’re going to bring home some points.
Key player: Andi Sullivan
Whether she’s started at the base of the midfield or in the #8 role tonight, it’s going to be a big game for Sullivan. If she plays deep, she’s going to have to match wits with Christine Sinclair, one of the smartest players on the planet. Sinclair’s position on paper is a traditional playmaking #10, but in Portland’s formation there isn’t an out-and-out center forward. Instead, Sinclair and the two wide forwards all alternate making those runs, meaning that the Spirit’s anchor midfielder is going to have to track a lot of runs from the Canadian.
If Sullivan lines up as the #8, she’ll be seeing a lot of Lindsey Horan, who often ends up leading the Thorns in touches and has been among the best players in the league thus far in 2018. That’s a physical challenge as much as it is mental, as Horan often uses her strength to hold off pressure and to win the ball back for Portland.
If Washington is going to come up with the defensive sturdiness they need to get a result tonight, Sullivan’s going to have to come up huge either way.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 10:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega
Bench: Kelsey Wys, Morgan Proffitt, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Havana Solaun, Tiffany Weimer, Mallory Eubanks, Cali Farquharson
This week’s injury report contained a little bit of good news: Pugh, who left last week’s game with a hamstring issue, was not on the list at all. Farquharson, meanwhile, was removed from the list after a couple of weeks spent listed as questionable. Nonetheless, it still means Washington travels without Rose Lavelle, Rebecca Quinn, or Arielle Ship, while Estefania Banini and Yanara Aedo won’t be back from international duty until early next week.
Projected Portland starting 11: (3412) - Britt Eckerstrom; Katherine Reynolds, Emily Sonnett, Kelli Hubly; Midge Purce, Celeste Boureille, Lindsey Horan, Meghan Klingenberg; Christine Sinclair; Mallory Weber, Ana Crnogorcevic
Swiss international Crnogorcevic appears to be in line for her first start since signing with Portland, while head coach Mark Parsons says he wants to give Tobin Heath her first minutes of 2018. That’s the good news for the Thorns; the bad news is that they’re missing a bunch of players. Four players (Andressinha, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, and Hayley Raso) are away on international duty, while starters Adrianna Franch and Emily Menges are listed as out for this game due to injuries (along with Meg Morris and Angela Salem).
That leaves Portland awfully short as far as healthy, available players go. Last week, with Franch and Salem available, they only dressed 16 players out of a possible 18.
Referee: Matt Franz
Available TV: None
What are you drinking?: I will turn 36 just as this game crosses into its final half-hour, so I’ll toast my longevity (and hopefully a healthy Spirit lead) with some Patron Añejo.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.