The Washington Spirit will be looking to break out of a rough patch tonight as they travel to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC. The Spirit’s middling recent form has resulted in a record of 0W-2D-3L in their last five, and Washington has fallen from top of the table to just outside the playoff spots in 5th. However, there is reason for optimism: the Spirit have beaten Sky Blue twice this year, and have gone 7W-2D-0L in the last 9 meetings between the teams.
However, a coaching change has boosted Sky Blue’s play of late, with wins over Chicago and Utah coming before this past weekend’s 1-0 loss in Orlando. This isn’t the same team the Spirit beat 3-2 in a wide-open game back in May, and with the Spirit scoring either one or zero goals in four of their last five, history is no guarantee of success.
Key player: Rose Lavelle
Both head coach Richie Burke and captain Andi Sullivan brought up sharpness in the final third as a recent issue for the Spirit after their loss to the Dash on the weekend, and it’s hard to disagree. Washington is generating fewer chances lately, and the percentage of those chances that are higher-quality looks is also down. We know this team is capable of scoring: before this winless run, the Spirit scored 2+ goals in four consecutive games (winning each time).
It just so happens that Washington has the starting attacking midfielder from the current world champions probably making her return to NWSL play tonight. Against a Sky Blue side that has shown more of a willingness to draw a higher line of contention under their new leadership, there will be time and space for Lavelle and the rest of the Spirit’s creative players to do what they do best. If the off-the-ball movement is right, this team should be able to create plenty of chances at a venue they’ve had success at before.
Location: Yurcak Field (Piscataway, NJ)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Jordan DiBiasi; Rose Lavelle, Cheyna Matthews, Chloe Logarzo
Bench: Shae Yanez, Amy Harrison, Elise Kellond-Knight, Bayley Feist, Cali Farquharson, Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch
It seems reasonable to expect at least some rotation here. Burke admitted after Saturday’s game that he felt that leaving Pugh on the field for the full 90 was a mistake, as she’s dealing with both lost fitness after not playing during the USWNT’s knockout stage games and a minor Achilles knock. Burke also said that if Lavelle said she was good to go for this one, he’d put her in, and Lavelle duly said during Monday’s World Cup press conference that she was ready to play.
This one’s tough to call, though, as Burke has made tactical changes virtually every week, and now has the quick turnaround to cope with along with the process of incorporating Lavelle to go with that. There are a lot of ways this could go, but our guess is that the rotation will include Bailey, Lavelle, and Logarzo coming in for Harrison, Pugh, and Hatch.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (433) - Kailen Sheridan; Gina Lewandowski, Erica Skroski, Estelle Johnson, Caprice Dydasco; Raquel Rodriguez, Julie Doyle, Sarah Killion; Paige Monaghan, Carli Lloyd, Imani Dorsey
With an unfamiliar co-coaching situation, it’s hard to guess how Sky Blue will handle the short rest. We’re guessing that there’s only one change, with Lloyd making her post-World Cup return, in turn pushing Rodriguez into the midfield. However, players like Liz Eddy (a regular starter since her arrival via trade), Sabrina Flores, Jen Hoy, Nahomi Kawasumi, and Amandine Pierre-Louis could all be in line to start if fresh legs are needed.
Referee: Jasmine Peralta
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
What are you drinking?: I’ll be in the press box at D.C. United’s friendly tonight, drinking that sponsor-provided press box water that has become such a regular part of my life now.
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