Last week was not good for the Washington Spirit. Facing the previously winless Utah Royals on the road, scoring chances were at a premium for the Spirit in a 2-0 loss. Tonight, Washington faces a different beast: the first place North Carolina Courage. Since the club moved south from Rochester, the Courage have beaten the Spirit in all four meetings between the two, scoring ten goals in the process.
That’s not to say all hope is lost. In Washington’s 4-2 loss to North Carolina back in April, the Spirit became the first team to score on the Courage this season. Washington didn’t show well last week, but they have seemed to make progress over their last game against North Carolina. However, if last week’s Spirit show up, it won’t be pretty.
Key player: Aubrey Bledsoe
One thing that’s pretty much guaranteed is that North Carolina will takes lots of shots. Of the NWSL players who have taken the most shots this season, three of the top five are Courage forwards. As a team, the Courage have 117 shots (52 on goal) in seven games. With center back Estelle Johnson looking very iffy to play due to a hamstring strain, the Spirit’s defense will count on Bledsoe more than usual.
Bledsoe leads the NWSL in saves (32) and has had the league’s Save of the Week twice this season. The Spirit’s defensive issues have played a significant factor, as Washington has simply not been able to keep teams from getting looks so far this year. Former Spirit star Crystal Dunn is a huge threat, and North Carolina can also call on Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald. If Bledsoe can produce big saves and avoid mistakes, the Spirit’s odds of leaving North Carolina with a point improve significantly.
Location: Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park (Cary, North Carolina)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4-3-3) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Rebecca Quinn, Caprice Dydasco; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Francisca Ordega
Bench: Kelsey Wys, Estelle Johnson, Joanna Lohman, Havana Solaun, Estefania Banini, Tiffany Weimer, Cali Farquharson
Estelle Johnson is questionable due to a right hamstring strain. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Spirit see if she can pass a pre-game fitness test. If she can start, Quinn will probably move up into the midfield. If Johnson can’t play, Morgan Proffitt will probably make the bench.
Rose Lavelle, Arielle Ship, and Cheyna Matthews remain out, though the first two are inching closer to being a factor on gameday.
Projected North Carolina starting 11: (4-4-2) - Katelyn Rowland; Merritt Mathias, Abby Dahlkemper, Abby Erceg, Jaelene Hinkle; Denise O’Sullivan, McCall Zerboni, Sam Mewis, Debinha; Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams
Mewis, after making her first start in a while last week, is listed as questionable. If she ends up not playing, look for Paul Riley to play Zerboni as a lone defensive midfielder underneath O’Sullivan, with Kristen Hamilton likely to come in on the right side. Goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo has a left ankle sprain and was initially listed as out for this one, but upgraded to questionable late Friday. She’ll probably be going through a pre-game test like Johnson, but don’t be surprised if Rowland gets the start instead.
Referee: JJ Bilinski
Available TV: None
Available streaming: go90.com and the go90 app for American viewers, and NWSLSoccer.com for those abroad.
What are you drinking?: Water, boring!
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