The Washington Spirit were probably not too unhappy with their start to 2018. They got an early win, showed that they can play with anyone in the league (at times, anyway) against likely playoff teams, and came up with an impressive away draw in Portland. May, however, has not been so kind, with three straight shutout losses putting them in a difficult spot. Today against Sky Blue FC — the only team beneath them in the NWSL standings — the pressure is on to get back to scoring and to pick up their second victory of the season.
Key player: Mallory Pugh
It’s no secret that Pugh is the key to the Spirit attack, but in recent games Washington hasn’t been able to get her many opportunities to get on the run with the ball. The reasons have been different (defensive gameplan at North Carolina, contained by Portland, and simply a team-wide poor showing at Utah), but the result is the same: zero goals for the Spirit in three games.
Every team knows that the Spirit are going to try to find Pugh as often as possible, and Sky Blue will surely have a gameplan involved in preventing that from happening. However, the New Jersey side has struggled defensively all season, and their attack-heavy midfield might make it hard for them to cut Pugh out of the game like the Thorns did on Saturday. Washington needs to make sure that’s the case. If Pugh is involved and getting chances to dribble at defenders, the chances of a Spirit win go up exponentially.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Rebecca Quinn, Whitney Church, Caprice Dydasco; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Estefania Banini; Mallory Pugh, Francisca Ordega, Mallory Eubanks
With this game coming on short rest, and a trip to Houston this Sunday still to come, look for some rotation from Jim Gabarra. Eubanks has impressed in limited minutes, so look for her to get a start up front, with Banini moving into the midfield. Ordega will probably play the first hour before making way for Hatch, a reversal of their share of the center forward minutes on the weekend. Johnson, off the injury report after dealing with a hamstring strain, may jump back into the lineup as a starter, but the Spirit may hold her in reserve for Sunday.
The big story is Lavelle’s likely inclusion in the squad. Since the USWNT midfielder hasn’t played a competitive game since last September due to a particularly tricky hamstring injury, it would be a surprise to see her play more than 15-20 minutes tonight.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (4141) - Kailen Sheridan; Christina Gibbons, Erica Skroski, Rebekah Stott, Mandy Freeman; Sarah Killion; Savannah McCaskill, Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie, Shea Groom; Katie Johnson
Between the fact that Sky Blue only has to make the 3 hour trip back to New Jersey for their game on the weekend, and their place in the standings (9th place, 1 point from 6 games), I think former Spirit assistant coach Denise Reddy is going to roll the dice and not rotate much at all. However, with Gibbons and Stott both listed as questionable on the injury report, we could see Amanda Frisbie and Domi Richardson (with Skroski and Freeman moving into new positions in the shuffle).
Sky Blue could also start Raquel Rodriguez or Thaysa in the midfield, which would leave one spot for Beckie and Groom out on the left. Then again, Groom could step in for Johnson up top if they want to add some fresh legs there.
Referee: Natalie Simon
Available TV: None
What are you drinking?: I’ll be in the press box, so probably iced coffee or green tea on my way in and water once I’m there.
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