The Washington Spirit defeated Sky Blue FC a couple of weeks ago, and it felt like an opportunity to get some momentum going and move up the NWSL standings. Instead, they fell flat in Houston, and followed that up by being out-fought at home against Chicago. Now, missing a slew of players, they travel to New Jersey to face Sky Blue again knowing that there isn’t much time left to change the course of their season.
Key player: Taylor Smith
Smith has quietly improving her play at right back in recent weeks, but due to injuries and call-ups, she was used as a right winger last week. The theory goes that the Spirit wanted some speed up top, and could move her up thanks to Estelle Johnson’s ability to play right back.
Tonight, that might be needed again as this game goes on, and maybe even from the start if Ashley Hatch’s hip flexor injury is too much for her to overcome. Either way, Washington needs the best version of Smith storming up and down the right side. At right back, she’ll likely be up against Shea Groom, the most dangerous Sky Blue player not called away for international duty. If Smith is a forward again, she’ll be attacking a vulnerable defense, and needs to produce a final product.
Location: Yurcak Field (Piscataway Township, NJ)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Estelle Johnson, Whitney Church, Caprice Dydasco; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Estefania Banini; Mallory Eubanks, Ashley Hatch, Tiffany Weimer
This is every single potentially available player for Jim Gabarra, but Hatch, Wys, and the elder Huster are questionable with injuries. If Hatch is unable to play, we’ll most likely see Smith moved up to right forward, Eubanks moving into the middle, Dougherty Howard at right back, and Lohman (or Tori Huster, or Proffitt) coming into the midfield.
Where’s everyone else? Arielle Ship, Cali Farquharson, and Cheyna Matthews are your long-term absentees, Mallory Pugh and Havana Solaun both have knee injuries, and national team call-ups mean that Francisca Ordega, Rebecca Quinn, Rose Lavelle, and Yanara Aedo are out of town.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (442) - Kailen Sheridan; Erica Skroski, Mandy Freeman, Domi Richardson, Christina Gibbons; Madison Tiernan, Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Imani Dorsey; Shea Groom, Katie Johnson
Denise Reddy is having to manage around the fact that six players (five of them starters) are away on international duty, while super-sub Jen Hoy is out injured. Defenders Amanda Frisbie and Skroski are questionable, as is Rodriguez. Normally Sky Blue prefers a 433, but they’re so short on central midfielders that they either need to switch to a 442 or for Frisbie to overcome her injury (allowing Gibbons to move into the midfield).
This lineup is a pretty substantial stab in the dark. Dorsey, a national team replacement player, may well be in line for a start, and rookie Michaela Abam might start at right back if Skroski can’t go.
Referee: Christina Unkel
Available TV: None
What do we have to say about it?: We summed up the recent news with Washington yesterday, including a full breakdown of who’s missing.
What are you drinking?: Let’s go with a margarita. That sounds like the move.
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