The Washington Spirit have had an immensely difficult 2018 season, and tonight figures to be a challenging night as they take on the Houston Dash. While the Spirit are playing for pride right now, Houston is looking at a desperate push for a playoff spot. The Dash are 4 points out an NWSL postseason berth with 4 games to play, but because of how tightly packed the standings are, there’s a scenario that would see them finish in 2nd place and host a semifinal.
The Spirit have not been blown out (they’ve never trailed by more than 2 goals), but they’ve been regularly out-played for 90 minutes, and the wide variety of injuries they’ve suffered have left virtually no continuity to the lineup, particularly in the attack. Tonight, though, they’ve got some big names back, and they face a Houston team that they pretty substantially outplayed in the rescheduled 1-0 home loss that virtually no one on earth saw. Jim Gabarra will be looking for his side to match most of that performance, but this time somehow find a breakthrough in front of goal.
Key player: Mallory Pugh
Pugh has missed a huge portion of the season with a knee injury picked up in a collision the last time Washington faced the Dash away from home. In the ten games they’ve played since, they’ve scored just one goal in what has been a long, cruel summer. However, since the start of August, the Spirit have been able to slowly build her up, getting a little over 20 minutes in Seattle on the 5th and 30 in Utah on the 9th. It figures that, with over a week to add to her fitness, that we should see her playing at least a full half.
That’s critical, because without Pugh, and with injuries elsewhere, the Spirit have had an extraordinarily tough time breaking out of midfield. When Pugh and Francisca Ordega have been unavailable, they’ve had little speed to threaten with, leading to teams stepping higher and crowding the midfield. That makes it harder to pass their way through, and it’s made them easy to shut down.
Adding Pugh’s ability to break lines with the ball at her feet at the same time they’re getting a creator like Rose Lavelle is promising. Hopefully, the Spirit’s long dry spell in front of goal — it’s been 424 minutes since they scored — is finally going to end.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (3412) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Rebecca Quinn, Whitney Church, Estelle Johnson; Taylor Smith, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Caprice Dydasco; Rose Lavelle; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Joanna Lohman, Mallory Eubanks, Havana Solaun, Cali Farquharson, Arielle Ship, Francisca Ordega
Good news: With time to train and build fitness, we may see Lavelle, Pugh, and Hatch together for more than half of a game for the first time all season. With the improved attacking play of Smith and Dydasco in this formation, the Spirit should be as dangerous going forward as they’ve been in months.
Bad news: Estefania Banini hasn’t recovered from her knee sprain, and Tori Huster was added to the injury report with a heel bruise. She won’t travel, which is why we’ve got Church moving into the middle of the back three (which pushes Johnson to left-center back). That means a recall for Sullivan in central midfield as well, though that might have happened anyway.
Projected Houston starting 11: (4132) - Jane Campbell; Taylor Comeau, Amber Brooks, Clare Polkinghorne, Allysha Chapman; Linda Motlhalo; Haley Hanson, Sofia Huerta, Kealia Ohai; Rachel Daly, Veronica Latsko
This is a little bit tricky. Vera Pauw could bring Janine van Wyk back in at center back, which would mean a 4231 with Polkinghorne alongside Motlhalo and a spot on the bench for Hanson. Daly and Kyah Simon are both listed as questionable, which are also factors. Daly has been a potential Best 11 candidate, while Simon’s availability may also be a factor in whether we see a 4231 or this high-risk version of a 442 that sees Motlhalo left with acres of space between the midfield and defense.
Referee: Michael Radchuk
Available TV: None
Available streaming: NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL app
What are you drinking?: It keeps being hot and humid, so I’m gonna keep having summery drinks. Thinking I’m going to make a margarita with Olmeca Altos reposado.
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