Ask anyone associated with the Washington Spirit, and the focus is on looking forward and putting 2018 in the past. The same can be said for Sky Blue FC, and last year’s cellar dwellers get a chance to prove their changes have made a difference on the first day of the 2019 NWSL season. For both of these teams, getting off to a good start could have huge long-term positives for morale, and banking points before the World Cup throws the league into chaos will likely prove critical as well.
Key player: Andi Sullivan
Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle are bigger stars and have more certainty with their USWNT spot, but for the Spirit’s new style of play, Sullivan is the foundation. Last year, Washington couldn’t move the ball quickly enough to transition from possession in the defensive third to their attackers, and more than anything else, that’s why they simply couldn’t score goals.
Richie Burke has a clear vision for Sullivan to be the starting point for the Spirit’s offense, and her play is going to be crucial for Washington. It’s also going to be a big deal for her personally, as the Spirit’s games before Jill Ellis finalizes her roster are Sullivan’s last chance to make her argument for a ticket to France.
Today, Sullivan is going to need to keep the Spirit’s tempo high to break through Sky Blue’s lines, while also screening the back four. With the Spirit’s brand new (and relatively inexperienced) defense, Sullivan’s work without the ball — in particular, preventing Carli Lloyd from having space underneath the front line and tracking late runners from the midfield — might be just as vital as her passing range and vision.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Amy Harrison, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster; Cheyna Matthews, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh
Bench: Sammy Jo Prudhomme, McKenzie Berryhill, Megan Crosson, Dorian Bailey, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Arielle Ship, Cali Farquharson
Despite having 4 preseason games to judge this on, there’s still plenty of guesswork. Harrison and Huster could swap spots, or Bailey could be the right back due to Harrison’s lack of time in training thanks to call-ups for Australia. Speaking of Aussies, Chloe Logarzo (ankle) is out, as she has not yet joined training at full speed.
The other issue is Rose Lavelle’s injury. She’s listed as questionable after picking up some kind of knock on USWNT duty. If she can play, she could start (with Matthews moving to the bench) or only be available as a sub (which would likely see Farquharson lose her spot in the 18). Richie Burke could also opt for Tiffany McCarty or Bayley Feist for that last spot.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (442) - Kailen Sheridan; Caprice Dydasco, Domi Richardson, Estelle Johnson, Erica Skroski; Naho Kawasumi, Sarah Killion, Julie James, Imani Dorsey; Carli Lloyd, Jen Hoy
It’s unclear whether Denise Reddy will start with this back four, or if the order will be flipped (meaning Dydasco at left back). There could also be a spot for Savannah McCaskill, who is listed as questionable on the injury report. However, it’s not clear where she’d play in this 442, which doesn’t really have a spot that works for her.
In any case, look for a heavy emphasis on trying to find Lloyd as often as possible, and on spraying the ball wide and firing in crosses (especially from the right).
Referee: Natalie Simon
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic), NWSLsoccer.com (international)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Our season preview should get you up to speed. All For XI did an in-depth piece on Sullivan that you should really dig into, and over at Once a Metro they’ve got a preview of Sky Blue.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be getting up to the Plex as early as I can, and that might mean a stop at the nearby Giant Coffee Chain for a cold brew. During the game, probably the typical bottled water.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.