The Washington Spirit host Portland Thorns FC today in a game that signals the start of a particularly tough part of their schedule. The Spirit’s next six games include all four of 2018’s playoff teams, and the other two games are against clubs making a serious challenge to make the postseason this year. With four of those six games coming at home, this stretch also may well tell us exactly how far the Spirit can go this year. If they take advantage and pick up wins against the league’s best, they’ll remain in the mix for a playoff spot.
That said, for the Spirit to do that, they’ll have to do something they haven’t done in a while: beat a team that isn’t Sky Blue FC. Washington’s last win over a team other than Sky Blue FC came on March 31st last year (2-0 over Orlando). However, last week they ended a 13-game road winless streak, so there’s reason to believe they can rise above their recent history again today.
Key player: Aubrey Bledsoe
The Thorns are tied atop the NWSL goalscoring table with 11, and they’ve played one fewer game than North Carolina, so at the moment Portland is the league’s best attack by the numbers. Yes, they’re missing some world-class attackers, but they’ll still show up today with outstanding players like Andressinha and Caitlin Foord leading the way.
The Spirit haven’t given up a goal at home yet in 2019, but last week at Sky Blue it was clearly still a work in progress in terms of staying solid for the full 90 minutes. Those wobbles weren’t too much to overcome against a struggling team, but against Portland, they might be too much to overcome.
That’s where Bledsoe will have to come through. We’re not just talking about making big saves, though that’s obviously very important. Bledsoe will also need to take charge of keeping her defense organized. With a talented but inexperienced defense ahead of her, Bledsoe’s ability to lead the group is going to be put to a real test today.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Amy Harrison; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Chloe Logarzo; Jordan DiBiasi; Cheyna Matthews, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Shae Yanez, Carlin Hudson, Megan Crosson, Dorian Bailey, Bayley Feist, Cali Farquharson, Arielle Ship
We’re splitting the difference as far as what to call this formation, which is a 433 with a false 9 going forward and a 442 diamond defensively. In any case, it seems unlikely that Richie Burke will have too many changes to make after last week’s win in New Jersey. Logarzo and DiBiasi may swap spots, but that’s probably it.
There may be a place in the 18 for Tegan McGrady, who is listed as questionable with a thigh injury, and Feist’s spot could also end up going to Tiffany McCarty (who made the bench last week).
Projected Thorns starting 11: (3412) - Britt Eckerstrom; Katherine Reynolds, Emily Menges, Gabby Seiler; Ellie Carpenter, Celeste Boureille, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Meghan Klingenberg; Andressinha; Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, Caitlin Foord
Mark Parsons generally prefers a 4231, but they won in Orlando with this set-up last week, and as Stumptown Footy explains, there are some good reasons for them to stick with it. It’s a tribute to their depth that they can put a team of this quality on the field even without their USWNT quartet (Adrianna Franch, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, and Emily Sonnett) and without Christine Sinclair, who is with Canada ahead of the World Cup.
Referee: Danielle Chesky
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (use this channel finder if you don’t know where to find NBCSN’s alternate channel)
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic), NWSLsoccer.com (international). That Yahoo link should take you to their NWSL video landing page. Normally we’d link right to the stream page for the Spirit, but Yahoo is malfunctioning and this is as close as I can get you right now. You’ll be able to find the game there, hopefully as kickoff approaches the link will actually work.
What are you drinking?: Tap water on the way in, and then water from team-provided bottles when I get there.
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