The Washington Spirit, who have headed out west to take on Portland Thorns FC, will be looking to finish their 2019 season on a high note tonight. On and off the field, the club has made major progress, and though their playoff hopes were officially ended a couple of weeks ago, there seems to be an eagerness to keep expectations high. It’s going to take more of the recent good form to play spoilers in Portland, where the home team is looking to make sure they maintain their spot in 3rd place on the final weekend of the NWSL season.
Key player: Mal Pugh
The Spirit actually played some pretty good soccer on their last visit to Portland, but two momentary lapses at the back left them with an early 2-0 hole to dig out of, and the group wasn’t quite sharp enough up front to dig out of it. Pugh wasn’t available for that game, but she’s back and in very good form (2 goals/1 assist in her last 4 appearances with the Spirit, plus a goal with the USWNT) to close out the season.
Customarily, going to Portland and getting a result tends to require putting at least two goals on the board, and probably being involved in an end-to-end, dramatic sort of game. Sure, the Thorns have just 1 goal in their last 4 games, but they’ve had a couple of weeks to find their old attacking selves. The Spirit are going to need to be consistently dangerous in the final third, and that means Pugh needs to find space to run with the ball while also remaining hard to track without it.
The Thorns will be without their fastest defender (Ellie Carpenter, who is out with an illness), so don’t be surprised if those spaces happen to be either out wide or in the channels. Pugh should have an advantage on either side, though it’s fair to expect her to end up playing as the point of a midfield diamond after some recent success in that formation.
Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)
Kickoff time: 10:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Chloe Logarzo; Mallory Pugh; Ashley Hatch, Crystal Thomas
Bench: Shae Yanez, Tegan McGrady, Amy Harrison, Bayley Feist, Jordan DiBiasi, Arielle Ship, Cheyna Matthews
Rose Lavelle and Cali Farquharson are away with excused absences, but Richie Burke gets most of his group of internationals back after doing without them in Orlando. That most likely means Pugh and Logarzo step back into the starting 11, and it could also mean a start for Matthews (7 goals in 3 games for Jamaica in Concacaf’s Olympic qualifiers), though Thomas’s Player of the Week performance this past Saturday doesn’t leave much of an opening.
Burke will probably be looking to give McGrady a longer spell in this game, though after missing most of the season with a range of thigh injuries, she may only be able to take the field for 20-30 minutes maximum.
Projected Portland starting 11: (4231) - Adrianna Franch; Elizabeth Ball, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg; Celeste Boureille, Andressinha; Simone Charley, Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath; Midge Purce
Mark Parsons has indicated that he wants to balance the need to win the game — aside from regaining form, a loss opens the door for Portland to drop to 4th, which means a trip to NC rather than Chicago in the semifinals — with the fact that several of his internationals faced long trips back for this game. That probably means a start for Boureille over Dagny Brynjarsdottir, as well as players like Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord only making the bench.
We may also see a rare start for Andressinha, as Lindsey Horan’s status is unclear after leaving Portland’s last game with a concussion. Out on the right, it really could be any of Charley, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, or Purce (in that last instance, Tyler Lussi could start up top).
It’s also worth pointing out that while Sinclair feels like a solid bet to start, she is one of those players who faced a long trip, as Canada went to Japan during the international window. Their captain may only play 45-60 minutes, as they will absolutely need her in the playoffs.
Referee: Farhad Dadkho
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (check this channel finder if you’re unsure what channel that is on your provider)
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic). That link will take you to Yahoo’s NWSL stream page, where this game should be easy to find if you scroll down past the video player.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: 10:30pm on a Saturday...sounds like tequila o’clock to me. Cadillac margarita, half-salted rim.
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