A massively disappointing 2018 season comes to an end for the Washington Spirit tonight, as they host winless Sky Blue FC in their final game of the season. Both sides may not have typical motivation, but there’s still the desire to not be historically bad. For the Spirit, that means not breaking the club record for fewest wins (they won only 3 times in 2013), and making sure Sky Blue — who are trying to avoid the ignominy of going winless for an entire season — stays dead last. Washington is 5 points ahead of their New Jersey-based foes, but Sky Blue has 2 more games left to play after this. They also want to break a 694-minute scoreless run, already a league record, before the season ends. A win won’t fix a torturous season, but it would at least keep them out of the record books for the wrong reasons.
That said, they’ll have to do so while extremely short-handed. The Spirit have called up six national team replacement players due to the timing of this game, which falls during an international window. With US Soccer’s open and pointed policy of expanding USWNT camps beyond those windows, and showing no regard for the NWSL schedule, this bizarre scenario would be happening whether this were a battle to stay out of last place or a fight for the NWSL Shield. Sky Blue will have three replacement players on their roster, and it seems highly possible that neither side can field a traditional gameday 18.
Update 9/1/2018, 10:11pm: This game was postponed due to some extremely cruelly-timed lightning strikes in the general area around the SoccerPlex. The game is scheduled for a 10:00am kickoff. After the last Spirit game postponed to the next morning was not streamed, details on that front are unknown at this point.
Key player: Taylor Smith
Smith has quietly been involved in more of the Spirit’s promising attacks over the last month than anyone on the roster. Outside of a few rare situations, that’s generally not great news, and it does partially reflect on a Spirit attack that has been toothless for the entire back half of the season. However, Smith’s storming runs from deep, whether overlapping on the touchline or surging into central positions, have unbalanced opponents repeatedly of late, and the Spirit need to make those moments amount to more.
With a completely new-look attack due to the long list of absentees, that will be tricky. It may come down to Smith going one step further by carrying her run deep into the attacking third instead of looking to combine. That’s asking a lot, but breaking the extraordinary combination of poor play, low confidence, and bad luck that have kept the Spirit scoreless for so long is going to require extra from everyone involved.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Taylor Smith, Whitney Church, Megan Crosson, Caprice Dydasco; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Joanna Lohman; Arielle Ship, Havana Solaun, Cali Farquharson; Francisca Ordega
Bench: Morgan Ruhl, Zoe Clark, Brenna Connell, Alexa Newfield, Tiffany McCarty
The Spirit are missing Estefania Banini, Mallory Eubanks, DiDi Haracic, Ashley Hatch, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Rebecca Quinn, and Andi Sullivan — that’s eight players — due to international call-ups, and five more (Tori Huster, Estelle Johnson, Cheyna Matthews, Tiffany Weimer, and Kelsey Wys) due to injuries or excused absences. Thirteen players are unavailable!
As such, this lineup includes all 10 fit and available players on the permanent Spirit roster, plus Crosson, one of the six replacement players. There are obvious possible variables: Ship and Ordega could swap spots, and the fact that both of those players are coming off of injuries (Ship’s kept her out for a whole year) might limit minutes or even preclude one or both from starting. In that case, replacement players Newfield and McCarty (both NWSL vets) would be the most likely starters instead.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (442) - Kailen Sheridan; Mandy Freeman, Erica Skroski, Domi Richardson, Amanda Frisbie; Jen Hoy, Sarah Killion, Christina Gibbons, Amandine Pierre-Louis; Shea Groom, Madison Tiernan
Sky Blue’s roster situation isn’t quite as preposterous as the Spirit’s, but they’re still short five players due to international duty (Imani Dorsey, Katie Johnson, Carli Lloyd, Savannah McCaskill, and Raquel Rodriguez) and will be without defender Rebekah Stott due to injury. This lineup is a guess, as Tiernan has been starting at left back recently. Gibbons could also play there, but the New Jersey side’s call-ups are mostly forwards and central midfielders, putting Denise Reddy in a real bind.
Referee: Mike Hohnholz
Available TV: None
Available streaming: NWSLsoccer.com and the NWSL app
What are you drinking?: I’m on vacation at a beach house with enough liquor to take down an army. There’s been talk of making mint juleps, so maybe that?
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