The Washington Spirit made it into the World Cup break at the top of the NWSL standings, but to stay there, they’ll need to maintain their good play against a badly shorthanded Reign FC side tonight in Tacoma. Heading to the state of Washington has traditionally signaled bad news for the Spirit. After winning 4-2 in their first-ever game there back in 2013, they’ve gone 0W-1D-9L when visiting the Reign, with a brutal -18 goal difference (8 for, 26 against).
With the home side boasting the league’s longest list of absentees right now, the Spirit may never have a better chance to end their long run of misfortune in the greater Seattle-Tacoma region.
Key player: Ashley Hatch
One key to Washington’s good form has been an ability to get out in front early. In each of their last four games (all wins), the Spirit have taken a lead by the 23rd minute. Game states are huge in soccer, and playing with a lead has been a strong suit for this Washington side. Meanwhile, Reign FC have conceded 4 times in the opening 15 minutes of games this season, which is very unlike most Vlatko Andonovski-coached teams.
Getting these leads is obviously a whole-team job rather than one player’s responsibility, but Hatch has been getting into great positions lately, and she’s the Spirit’s leading scorer to boot. Despite the travel and the history in this fixture, Washington will probably look to be aggressive early and get themselves another lead, and regardless of whether she actually scores or not, Hatch is going to be heavily involved.
Location: Cheney Stadium (Tacoma, WA)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Dorian Bailey; Jordan DiBiasi; Arielle Ship, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Shae Yanez, Carlin Hudson, McKenzie Berryhill, Megan Crosson, Bayley Feist, Cali Farquharson, Crystal Thomas
The Spirit have had two weeks to gear up for this one, but with no new injuries to report after a convincing 2-0 win over Utah last time out, it’s hard to imagine too many lineup changes. So, we’re predicting an unchanged lineup.
Projected Reign starting 11: (4231) - Casey Murphy; Theresa Nielsen, Megan Oyster, Lauren Barnes, Christen Westphal; Morgan Andrews, Beverly Yanez; Ifeoma Onumonu, Jess Fishlock, Shea Groom; Bethany Balcer
Tacoma’s list of unavailable players is a shocking 14 players long. They’re missing 8 players due to the World Cup, have 3 more dealing with season-ending injuries, and have 3 others (including attacker Darian Jenkins and defensive utility player Kristen McNabb) who are just out for the time being.
On top of all that, winger/forward Shea Groom is questionable with a calf strain, which could open up a spot for former Spirit midfielder Morgan Proffitt (with Yanez moving up), striker Maegen Kelly (possibly with Balcer moving to the left), Kiersten Dallstream, or Jaycie Johnson. Basically, it’s a giant question mark.
Referee: Natalie Simon
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
What are you drinking?: El Buho mezcal and some Trader Joe’s jalapeño limeade on ice.
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