The Washington Spirit head south to take on the struggling Orlando Pride tonight, and they’ll be looking to shake off probably their toughest result of an otherwise strong 2019 season. Last week’s 2-1 home loss to the North Carolina Courage is a test of this group’s resolve. Are they able to get back to their best after an off-night ended their unbeaten home record? They certainly can’t expect an easy night against a desperate team that happens to have Marta back in the fold.
Key player: Meggie Dougherty Howard
Playing deep in the midfield, Dougherty Howard is going to be tested today. Marta played a very free role in the middle of Orlando’s front three last week, which gives her license to drop into the area Dougherty Howard occupies. Emily van Egmond is back as well, and probably steps into the lineup straight away for a Pride team that needs help.
Dougherty Howard’s job isn’t just helping screen the center backs and creating a disconnect between Orlando’s key attackers, though. She has the vision to break lines from deep positions, and against an Orlando side that has given up 24 goals in 11 games this season, that sort of pass will be there. The Pride have struggled to get into proper defensive shape with consistency, and are slow to react when the ball turns over. If MDH spots a run from the Spirit’s front line, we could see her turn defense to offense in a flash.
Location: Exploria Stadium (Orlando, FL)
7:30pm Eastern Due to a weather delay, the game is currently slated to start at 8:20pm.
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Amy Harrison; Andi Sullivan, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Chloe Logarzo; Jordan DiBiasi; Cheyna Matthews, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Shae Yanez, McKenzie Berryhill, Dorian Bailey, Bayley Feist, Cali Farquharson, Arielle Ship, Crystal Thomas
Farquharson was listed as questionable with a knee issue, but did travel with the team. Against North Carolina last week, Richie Burke switched to a 4231, but given Orlando’s tendency towards making big defensive errors, it seems safe to expect a return to the most common Spirit formation, which will bank on getting pressure on the ball and forcing mistakes. That opens up a spot for Matthews up front.
Projected Orlando starting 11: (433) - Haley Kopmeyer; Erin Greening, Alanna Kennedy, Shelina Zadorsky, Carson Pickett; Marisa Viggiano, Emily van Egmond, Joanna Boyles; Rachel Hill, Marta, Chioma Ubogagu
Zadorsky, Kennedy, van Egmond are all back and available, and while coach Marc Skinner played coy, it’s hard to imagine a team with only one win on the year not rushing back three of their best players. Dani Weatherholt (foot) is questionable, but could step in for Boyles or Viggiano in the midfield.
Referee: Greg Dopka
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic), NWSLsoccer.com (international). That Yahoo link should take you right to the correct page.
What are you drinking?: It’s stupid hot, so it’s gin and tonic weather.
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