The Washington Spirit have had a tough season, and this may be the back end of their most grueling few days of 2018. Just three days after playing a fast-paced 90 minutes on turf in a loss at Seattle, they face Utah Royals FC on the Wasatch Front. Utah is coming off of a tough game of their own, as any physical activity in Houston in August can be pretty brutal. They’re 4 points out of a playoff spot with 5 games to play, so the Spirit can expect to have another battle on their hands.
Location: Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, UT)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (352) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Rebecca Quinn, Estelle Johnson, Tori Huster; Taylor Smith, Joanna Lohman, Whitney Church, Andi Sullivan, Caprice Dydasco; Francisca Ordega, Ashley Hatch
Jim Gabarra is in a tough spot here, playing at elevation with just two days rest. That’s why there are some changes in this prediction, including Sullivan and Lohman coming in for Dougherty Howard and Solaun. The major issue is at wingback, where Dydasco and Smith both put a ton into their 90 minutes in Seattle. The Spirit could return to the 433, pulling Johnson out of the middle to play right back given that she had (relatively speaking) less running to do on Sunday at center back. Dougherty Howard could also start on either flank, though since she played the full match in central midfield, it’s not like she’ll have fresh legs.
If Gabarra gets really experimental, we could see Eubanks or Farquharson playing as a (very attack-minded) wingback. As for Pugh and Lavelle, it’s doubtful that we’ll see them get more minutes than on Sunday given their long returns from injury.
Projected Utah starting 11: (4231) - Nicole Barnhart; Samantha Johnson, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, Becca Moros; Lo’eau LaBonta, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir; Diana Matheson, Katrina Gorry, Christen Press; Amy Rodriguez
Other than Johnson, this is the full team that played for the Royals on the weekend in Houston, which feels like it might not be exactly what we see. Days after giving up 2 goals to former Spirit strikers, Washington could end up facing another former striker in Katie Stengel, who had the league’s goal of the week on Sunday. Utah also has to decide whether Barnhart is their goalkeeper going forward, as she’s gotten a couple of starts in a row since replacing Abby Smith due to injury a few weeks ago.
Desiree Scott is questionable with a quad strain, and could come back into a defensive midfield role. USWNT veteran Kelley O’Hara is one of four players who are listed as out.
Referee: Tim Ford
Available TV: None
Available streaming: NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL app
What are you drinking?: It’s brutally hot out, so by the time this game gets going I’ll be winding down with a gin and tonic.
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