Tonight is a huge night for the Washington Spirit, who will welcome the largest crowd in club history to Audi Field as they take on the Orlando Pride. It’s also an absolutely critical game for the Spirit’s pursuit of an NWSL playoff spot. After tonight, Washington only has two more home games, and the task of making up a six-point gap with seven games to play is tough enough as is. Avenging a 4-3 loss at Orlando back in July is essential for the Spirit’s postseason hopes.
Key player: Ashley Hatch
Hatch was very busy mid-week, helping lead the Spirit’s efforts to press Utah and racking up 5 shot attempts. It was encouraging to see her get so many looks, and that she was playing such a direct role in those opportunities coming to pass. However, that hard work needed better execution to go with it, as it seemed like Hatch was hurrying her shots.
Against an Orlando team that is stuck with a makeshift back four while also missing a key midfield starter, the opportunity is there to pursue a broadly similar approach. Hatch needs to repeat most of what she did Wednesday (no mean feat, given how taxing it can be to press a team in muggy conditions), and just find a tiny bit more composure with her final shot. If she can do that, we’ll probably be talking about how she scored a goal or two in a Spirit victory.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4312) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Dorian Bailey; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Chloe Logarzo; Jordan DiBiasi; Ashley Hatch, Cheyna Matthews
Bench: Shae Yanez, Amy Harrison, Bayley Feist, Cali Farquharson, Crystal Thomas, Arielle Ship
The Spirit’s injury list got slightly worse after Wednesday’s draw with Utah. Rose Lavelle was downgraded to out, while Elise Kellond-Knight pulled up with a hamstring strain and will miss out as well. They join Mallory Pugh (hip), Tegan McGrady (quad), and Mallory Eubanks (maternity).
Richie Burke has a tough task today, as he might need fresh legs to bolster his lineup after playing mid-week. Bailey seems the likely answer at left back, but we could see Harrison there and Bailey in the midfield (or vice versa) if Logarzo or Dougherty Howard need a rest. Matthews stepping in up top for Thomas also seems very plausible.
Projected Orlando starting 11: (4231) - Ashlyn Harris; Erin Greening, Ali Krieger, Shelina Zadorsky, Kristen Edmonds; Joanna Boyles, Dani Weatherholt; Rachel Hill, Marisa Viggiano, Claire Emslie; Marta
The Pride’s list of absentees is even longer than the Spirit’s. Alex Morgan is in concussion protocol after a tough collision mid-week, and her replacement Chioma Ubogagu will miss the game with an excused absence. On top of that, Alanna Kennedy was sent off late, leaving a hole in central midfield.
However, with notorious Spirit-killer Marta back from suspension, Orlando gets a significant boost up front. She’ll step in for Morgan, while Boyles should step in for Kennedy. At the back, a defensive shake-up has seen Krieger moved into the middle, though Marc Skinner could bring Carson Pickett back in on either flank if rotation is needed.
Referee: Matt Franz
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic), NWSLsoccer.com (international...unless last week’s low-detail announcement about ESPN has changed things). That Yahoo link should take you right to the correct page.
What are you drinking?: I’m probably going to be on Buzzard Point early, so I’ll grab a cold brew coffee somewhere down there before subsisting on my customary bottled water during the game.
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