Two teams that could really use a win meet tonight at the Maryland SoccerPlex, as the Washington Spirit host the Houston Dash. The Spirit have hit their first lull of 2019, going 0W-2D-2L in their prior four games before getting last weekend off to sort some things out. They’ve also gotten their USWNT players back from the World Cup, with Mallory Pugh expected to start (Rose Lavelle is expected to be present, but the club aims to have her available for Washington’s mid-week trip to face Sky Blue FC).
The Dash, meanwhile, have gone seven games without a win (including three straight losses). It’s been a rough time for Houston, with players taking to social media to push back against even justifiable criticism. That said, it was just under a month ago that they came up here and got the scoreless draw, so the Spirit can hardly assume that this will be an easy game.
Key player: Mallory Pugh
Sometimes the obvious answer is also the right answer. The last time these teams met, the Spirit had plenty of the ball, but struggled to disrupt Houston’s shape, and thus carved out few real chances until the final few minutes of a 0-0 draw. There weren’t enough ideas on the ball, and Washington’s movement without it was too predictable.
Tonight, look for the Spirit to try to mix things up a bit. Maybe it’ll be using possession to draw Houston forward before playing in behind, and maybe earlier balls out to the wing, forcing a defender to leave the compact Dash structure and defend in isolation. Either way, those elements are things Pugh does extremely well, and they’re things the Spirit have lacked against organized teams of late.
While Washington never seems overly focused on just giving one player the ball over and over again, don’t be surprised if we see the game tilted towards Pugh, especially in the early stages.
Location: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Wait I heard it was at 7: Yesterday afternoon, the Spirit and NWSL announced that the game was being pushed back to 8 due to the broiling temperatures out here:
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Chloe Logarzo; Jordan DiBiasi; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Shae Yanez, McKenzie Berryhill, Amy Harrison, Elise Kellond-Knight, Bayley Feist, Crystal Thomas, Cheyna Matthews
With the Spirit at home, look for Richie Burke to bring Dougherty Howard back in as a starter, moving Nielsen back to central defense. At training yesterday, Burke cited the need for a more stay-at-home presence last week, but is likely inclined to play a more open game against a defense-first opponent at the Plex. For similar reasons, DiBiasi is probably in position to jump back into the starting lineup for Feist, while Matthews will probably make way for Pugh up front.
As far as likely substitutions, Logarzo may need her minutes managed as she plays through a minor knock. That dovetails nicely with new pick-up Kellond-Knight, who Burke rates as having about 35 minutes in her legs for this one.
Projected Houston starting 11: (4231) - Jane Campbell; Satara Murray, Amber Brooks, Ally Prisock, Allysha Chapman; Haley Hanson, Sophie Schmidt; Sofia Huerta, Kristie Mewis, Kealia Ohai; Kyah Simon
The Dash will be missing normal starting defenders Ari Romero (who is away with Mexico for the Pan-Am Games) and Clare Polkinghorne (excused absence). Murray and Prisock, who started in the last meeting, seem like sure bets to step in.
Referee: Karen Abt
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
What do we have to say about it?: Our report from training yesterday is mandatory reading.
What are you drinking?: So much water. You don’t even know. Vulgar quantities of water.
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