Tonight could be a huge night for the Washington Spirit’s flagging playoff hopes, as they face a vital game on the road against the Houston Dash. While the standings and the eye test say that the Spirit are the better team, the fact is that Houston has taken four points from the two previous meetings (both at the Maryland SoccerPlex). The Dash have managed to frustrate Washington for long spells, and there’s no reason to expect them to suddenly give the Spirit the wide-open game they’d prefer.
Meanwhile, an hour later in Tacoma, Reign FC and Utah Royals FC face off in a game that most likely needs to be a draw for the Spirit’s postseason dreams to remain at all realistic. If the Spirit can handle their end of the bargain and get their first road win since July, they’ll surely be watching the second half of a game they badly need to end in a stalemate.
On the other hand, a loss tonight and a winner in the other game would leave Washington needing to win all of their remaining games and a miraculous amount of help. Tonight’s not a must-win, but it might as well be.
Key player: Mal Pugh
The Dash have been really tough for the Spirit to break down going forward, so they’re going to need the best out of Pugh. The good news is that lately, she’s been very dangerous, with an assist at Audi Field followed by a goal in Chicago this past weekend. There has been a clear progression for Pugh as she’s returned to full fitness following a couple of post-World Cup knocks, and tonight the Spirit need her to take that one step further.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kickoff time: 9:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Megan Crosson; Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan, Chloe Logarzo; Mal Pugh, Ashley Hatch, Crystal Thomas
Bench: Shae Yanez, Amy Harrison, Dorian Bailey, Cali Farquharson, Rose Lavelle, Cheyna Matthews, Arielle Ship
Richie Burke has some tough issues to sort out for this one. On top of this being the second of three games in a week, Meggie Dougherty Howard is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, and it feels like Rose Lavelle’s status is dependent on how well she’s recovered from a trip to Italy to be named to the FIFPro World Best XI. With the 45 minutes on Saturday apparently being a bit of a stretch, her best-case scenario for tonight is probably something in the 20-30 minute range. Worst case? That’d probably be giving her the night off, though it would be completely understandable if that were the case.
It seems likely that Burke will rotate fresh legs in at left back (with Crosson replacing Farquharson), on the left wing (Thomas for Matthews), and Lavelle’s spot in the midfield will probably end up with DiBiasi. However, DiBiasi is questionable with a toe injury, so it could be Harrison or Bailey, or Elise Kellond-Knight (who made the trip after recovering from a hamstring strain).
Projected Dash starting 11: (433) - Jane Campbell; Haley Hanson, Ally Prisock, Amber Brooks, Allysha Chapman; Christine Nairn, Sophie Schmidt, Kristie Mewis; Sofia Huerta, Rachel Daly, Kealia Ohai
Houston has played a very defensive 4141 in their last two games, but in their last match in Houston they pushed their wide players up with Daly. It’s possible that James Clarkson opts to rotate, given that they played on the weekend, but Houston has the weekend off.
If there’s any rotation, it could be Lindsay Agnew (one of four former Spirit players on the Dash roster) at right back over Hanson, who could also push up into one of the central midfield roles. Most likely, though, Houston will retain the same lineup that fell 1-0 in Portland on Saturday night.
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva
Available TV: ESPN2
Available streaming: WatchESPN
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: Leaning towards some Patron silver.
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