We’re officially into the weird portion of the 2019 NWSL schedule, and for the Washington Spirit that means playing without Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh. Tonight against Reign FC (who are similarly without Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long), we’ll get a preview of what this squad can do when dealing without two of the best attacking players on the planet. If the Spirit can break down a normally very organized Reign side, they just might have the stuff to turn 2019 into more than just a rebuilding year.
Key player: Ashley Hatch
Let’s put it in stark terms: The two most likely players to generate scoring chances on the Spirit roster are unavailable for potentially 2-3 months. While that puts a lot on the shoulders of players like Jordan DiBiasi and (at least until she joins up with Jamaica) Cheyna Matthews, it also means that the Spirit have to make do with the chances they do manage to create.
That’s why we’re highlighting Hatch. Part of creating chances, after all, comes from the movement of players who don’t have the ball. It takes two to tango, and Hatch needs to bring her very best in terms of her off-the-ball runs. On top of that, she also has to make sure she’s clinical with the chances that come her way, because Washington might find it harder right now to carve out A+ chances. If the adjustment period in the coming weeks means a lack of sitters, Hatch is going to have to turn some half-chances into goals.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Dorian Bailey, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Amy Harrison, Andi Sullivan, Jordan DiBiasi; Cheyna Matthews, Ashley Hatch, Megan Crosson
Bench: Shae Yanez, Carlin Hudson, Bayley Feist, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Chloe Logarzo, Cali Farquharson, Arielle Ship
With Lavelle and Pugh off to the USWNT’s lengthy pre-World Cup camp, and Tori Huster dealing with a hip injury picked up in training recently, there are some changes from the group that lost at Utah two weeks ago. Bailey is very likely to make her first pro start at right back in Huster’s place, while Crosson seems to be the most likely option to step in for Pugh up top.
Elsewhere, Logarzo figures to make her first gameday 18 in the NWSL, and could get her Spirit debut in as a late sub (just before leaving for Australia’s World Cup camp) if the game sets up for it. The final spot on the bench could go to Feist, but it could also go to McKenzie Berryhill or Tiffany McCarty (both listed as questionable on this week’s injury report).
Projected Reign starting 11: (4231) - Lydia Williams; Theresa Nielsen, Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes, Celia Jimenez Delgado; Elise Kellond-Knight, Rumi Utsugi; Shea Groom, Bev Yanez, Bethany Balcer; Jodie Taylor
This may end up as a 433, with Yanez in the midfield and the wingers pushed up with Taylor, but in the past Vlatko Andonovski’s teams usually end up in a 4231 shape one way or another. Either way, they’re without Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long, though in the case of Long they have an Australian national team player in Kellond-Knight to plug in.
Nielsen was the best right back in NWSL last season, but has only been fit enough to play as a sub in Reign FC’s first 2 games. If she can get back in as expected, she’d start at her natural position while Jimenez Delgado moves over to the left. If not, look for Kristen McNabb at left back and Jimenez Delgado on the right.
The big question might center on Darian Jenkins, who is off the injury report. The speedy attacker could slot in up top, but seems more likely to get a shot on the wing if she has enough in her legs to start.
Referee: Jasmine Peralta
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (use this channel finder if you don’t know where to find NBCSN’s alternate channel)
What are you drinking?: The same press box bottled water I mentioned in our D.C. United preview. Wish there was some way to be in both places, but 7-8pm home games are the sweet spot for both clubs, and I haven’t figured out cloning yet.
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