The Washington Spirit face a daunting task tonight as they go on the road to take on the surging Chicago Red Stars. For the Spirit, who sit 5 points out of the playoffs with 5 games left on their schedule, it’s not an ideal time to be facing a team that has suddenly found themselves on a three-game winning streak, but if they want to be a playoff team, Chicago is exactly the kind of team they have to be able to not just compete against, but beat.
There is some good news for Washington, as Rose Lavelle is off the injury report. If she and Mallory Pugh both take the field at the same time, it will be just the third time all season (and first since July 24th) that both of the Spirit’s USWNT stars have been able to play in the same game. The timing couldn’t be better, as the Red Stars haven’t given up a goal in 304 minutes of play.
Key player: Tori Huster
The focus with Chicago is always on Sam Kerr to a certain degree, and for good reason. No team in the league has figured out how to stop Kerr, but to some extent everyone wants to cut off her supply. While Chicago creates their chances in a variety of ways, the most important link they have on the field is between Kerr and Yuki Nagasato, who has been stationed on the left wing for the last couple of months.
That means Huster will be seeing a ton of the Japanese veteran, and there’s not just one thing you have to get right against her. Nagasato is crafty with and without the ball, making her a difficult opponent to deal with in terms of anticipation and positioning. However, what goes under the radar is that she’s also a physically strong player, and has no problem battling it out in that fashion. With rain in the forecast, that aspect might end up being a key factor for Huster and the rest of the Spirit defense.
Location: SeatGeek Stadium (Bridgeview, IL)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Megan Crosson; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle; Mallory Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Crystal Thomas
Bench: Shae Yanez, Tegan McGrady, Amy Harrison, Chloe Logarzo, Jordan DiBiasi, Cheyna Matthews, Arielle Ship
There’s a big question for Richie Burke to handle today: after not playing for a full month, is Lavelle ready to play long enough to start? That’s an unknown, and complicating matters, DiBiasi is questionable with a foot injury. Logarzo could also be ready to start, giving Burke some options as far as distributing minutes to his three biggest scoring threats from midfield. Lavelle could even play some of this game as part of the front three, or we could see the midfield diamond return.
It’s all up in the air, as is the issue of whether Matthews pushed her way back into the starting lineup ahead of Thomas after making a huge difference off the bench last week.
McGrady may well make the bench for the first time since June 1st, though it’s unclear whether there will be an opportunity for her to get into this game.
Projected Red Stars starting 11: (4231) - Alyssa Naeher; Sarah Gorden, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson, Casey Short; Morgan Brian, Nikki Stanton; Katie Johnson, Savannah McCaskill, Yuki Nagasato; Sam Kerr
Rory Dames has been rotating a player or two virtually all season long due to injuries and an attempt to keep his best eleven fresh. He’ll have to do it again today, with Danielle Colaprico, Arin Wright, and Vanessa DiBernardo all questionable to play. Johnson should return on the wing after a suspension kept her out last week, while McCaskill figures to step in for DiBernardo as Chicago’s attacking midfielder.
Referee: Mark Allatin
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus (check this channel finder if you’re unsure what channel that is on your provider)
Available streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic). That link will take you to Yahoo’s NWSL stream page, where this game should be the first option on the list.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: I have a couple cans of Anderson Valley’s Cherry Gose in the fridge, so it’ll probably be time to knock those back.
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