The Washington Spirit are looking to break a 13-game road winless streak this afternoon, as they travel about three hours up 95 to take on Sky Blue FC. The Spirit began this season by beating their nearest geographic rivals at home, and Yurcak Field was the site of their last win away from home. However, Sky Blue have improved over their two games, showing some solidity and the ability to create danger on the break to get draws against two of the best sides in the NWSL.
For the Spirit to pick up their second win of the season, it may well take their best performance yet this year.
Key player: Jordan DiBiasi
The Spirit bossed most of the prior meeting between these teams, but things have changed since. For one, the Spirit are without Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh, which is a pretty big deal on the attacking side of the ball. Sky Blue, meanwhile, have moved away from the 442 formation they played at the Maryland SoccerPlex, adding a third central midfielder to make life tougher for opponents.
The results since then have included a road draw against North Carolina and a home draw against Portland. Another way to say this is that Sky Blue has avoided defeat in their meetings with both 2018 finalists, and in fact nearly stole all 3 points from their game against the Courage. Denise Reddy saw some problems in how her team played against the Spirit, and made the right adjustment.
That’s where DiBiasi comes in. Whether she ends up playing as a false 9 again, or if she’s back in her more natural midfield role, she has to be really clever on and off the ball. Sky Blue has focused on being hard to break down and tough to play through, which means the degree of difficulty for the Spirit’s creative players is going to be higher than it was in the opener. If DiBiasi can spark the attack, Washington has a real chance of getting their first road win since September 10, 2017.
Location: Yurcak Stadium (Piscataway, NJ)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Megan Crosson; Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan, Amy Harrison; Cali Farquharson, Ashley Hatch, Cheyna Matthews
Bench: Shae Yanez, Carlin Hudson, Dorian Bailey, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Bayley Feist, Chloe Logarzo, Arielle Ship
Huster is off the injury report after missing last week’s game, and should return at right back. We also saw DiBiasi deployed as a false 9 last week, but at halftime, Matthews came on, DiBiasi moved back into the midfield, and the Spirit were suddenly far more dangerous. Look for Richie Burke to set his team up in that latter set-up. We should also see Logarzo play more than the 24 minutes she did last week.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (433) - DiDi Haracic; Paige Monaghan, Erica Skroski, Gina Lewandowski, Caprice Dydasco; Raquel Rodriguez, Julie James, Sarah Killion; Nahomi Kawasumi, Savannah McCaskill, Imani Dorsey
Sky Blue’s list of international absentees grew this week, as goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (Canada) and former Spirit captain Estelle Johnson (Cameroon) joined Carli Lloyd (USA) in departing for duty ahead of the World Cup. New signing Gina Lewandowski may step right into the lineup in Johnson’s place, while former Spirit goalkeeper Haracic is the likely replacement for Sheridan.
Elsewhere, McCaskill played 38 minutes last week as she builds up from an injury, and she could be in line for a start up top. Reddy has played a 4141 in each of the last two weeks, but this may become more of a 433 today.
Referee: Tori Penso
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
What are you drinking?: I’ll be covering this one from the press box, so you know I’m gonna be drinking bottled water from the cooler
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