The Washington Spirit, fresh off of one of the worst losses in club history, enter a new era tonight. Head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra was let go just over 30 hours before tonight’s game against Utah Royals FC kicks off, with interim coach Tom Torres taking charge of a talented group that has been low on confidence for some time now. On the other side, Utah has virtually no chance of making it into the NWSL playoffs without a victory, so whatever has changed with the Spirit will be given a stern test.
Key player: Rose Lavelle
Lavelle’s comeback from a hamstring strain last year has been difficult due to multiple setbacks, an enforced club change, and a tendency to be hampered by the odd NWSL schedule. As a result, the 62 minutes she played in Houston is the longest outing she’s had since initially getting hurt.
That makes it difficult to get into a rhythm, but she’s shown flashes with the Spirit and with the USWNT of being a game-changing player. Against a Royals side known for slowing games down and being very difficult to break down, the Spirit will need Lavelle to be inventive and heavily involved in order to break their 514 minute goalless run.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Rebecca Quinn, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard; Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle, Cali Farquharson; Ashley Hatch
Bench: DiDi Haracic, Whitney Church, Joanna Lohman, Mallory Eubanks, Havana Solaun, Arielle Ship, Francisca Ordega
This is guesswork given that there’s been a coaching change, but given that that change happened literally yesterday, I’m not sure Torres is going to change the formation overnight. Pugh and Lavelle will probably be on a minutes limit so they can play a bigger role on Saturday at Audi Field.
Ordega is questionable with a foot contusion suffered in Houston, while Tori Huster and Estefania Banini remain out alongside longer-term absentees Kelsey Wys, Tiffany Weimer, and Cheyna Matthews. We may see a first appearance for Ship since her ACL tear last year.
Projected Utah starting 11: (4231) - Nicole Barnhart; Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie, Becky Sauerbrunn, Becca Moros; Lo’eau LaBonta, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir; Erika Tymrak, Diana Matheson, Christen Press; Amy Rodriguez
There’s guesswork here, but for a different reason. Laura Harvey treats her front four as interchangeable, and the only member of that group to start each of their last three games is Press. With Utah having to win out, and having stayed on the east coast after their controversial 2-2 draw with Sky Blue FC on the weekend, look for their strongest eleven despite being on relatively short rest. That said, their leading scorer is former Spirit striker Katie Stengel, who figures to be the first player to sub into this one.
If Harvey wants to field a very defensive team (which, given Utah’s preference for a slow tempo, is very defensive), she could withdraw Tymrak, move LaBonta up into the #10 role, and play Desiree Scott alongside Jonsdottir.
Referee: Natalie Simon
Available streaming: NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL app
What are you drinking?: Press box water, but I might get a Slurpee on the way in.
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