They’re not exactly the teams people expected to lead the NWSL at this point, but the Washington Spirit and Utah Royals FC have each earned their place at the top of the table. For the Spirit, this game is a chance to avenge their only defeat of the season, and would also serve to prove that last week’s 2-0 win in Chicago was no fluke. However, against a gritty Utah side that has seemingly mastered the 1-0 win under Laura Harvey, nothing is going to come easy.
Key player: Andi Sullivan
The Spirit had four players in the NWSL Team of the Month, and yet for your faithful blogging nerd, voters missed out by not adding Sullivan to the list. Since being left off of the USWNT squad for the World Cup, she has offered nothing short of inspired play in central midfield. In possession, she’s been dictating the tempo, allowing the Spirit to impose their style of play. Without the ball, she’s been an absolute force when Washington tries to win the ball back, and has had repeated success when tasked with tracking dangerous players off the ball. It’s the classic “it doesn’t show up in the box score” situation that any defensive midfielder has to deal with.
Against a Royals side that plays a similar formation, Sullivan is going to have to once again show the speed of thought that allows her to be so difficult to play against. Utah does a good job of providing multiple options to the player on the ball, so cutting off the most dangerous passing lanes before they even open up is going to be huge.
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, Tegan McGrady; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Cali Farquharson; Jordan DiBiasi; Ashley Hatch, Arielle Ship
Bench: Shae Yanez, Carlin Hudson, McKenzie Berryhill, Dorian Bailey, Megan Crosson, Bayley Feist, Crystal Thomas
Richie Burke has 18 fit and available players, so there’s no mystery in who makes the 18. There is one question in the lineup, as Bailey played quite well coming on for Farquharson last week. Those two are making it really tough for Burke to fill out his lineup sheet right now.
We may also see Sullivan and Dougherty Howard swap spots, as Sullivan has been moved around with the opposing side’s top attacking threat in mind. Utah has Vero Boquete (who left last weeks’s game early with a knock, but is expected to play tonight) as their playmaker, so Sullivan might end up deeper rather than right of center as she has been recently.
Projected Utah starting 11: (4312) - Nicole Barnhart; Michelle Maemone, Gaby Vincent, Samantha Johnson, Becca Moros; Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, Mandy Laddish, Mallory Weber; Vero Boquete; Amy Rodriguez, Katie Stengel
There’s some guesswork needed here, as Harvey is without the suspended Lo’eau LaBonta, who took over at the base of their midfield once Desiree Scott joined up with Canada’s national team. Laura Harvey will probably move either Laddish or Jonsdottir from a shuttling role into the no. 6 spot, with recent acquisition Weber the most likely player to step in as a result. There are other possibilities, though, such as Boquete playing deeper (with Stengel moving underneath the front two and Erica Tymrak likely the player coming into the team).
Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (use this channel finder if you don’t know where to find NBCSN’s alternate channel)
What do we have to say about it?: I answered some questions from RSL Soapbox last night. Their answers to my questions will becoming up around noon.
What are you drinking?: The scheduling of both local teams at the same time keeps me from being at this one. When it kicks off, I’ll be drinking sponsor-provided bottled water at Audi Field and probably whining about how the two leagues didn’t think of me specifically when making their respective schedules.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.