With a flight to Utah in their near future, the Washington Spirit announced their NWSL Challenge Cup roster today. The Spirit have 26 players in their squad, with no surprise absentees or short-term signings added. Despite players having the option of sitting the Challenge Cup out without losing contracts, Washington will head west with a full-strength team.
While numerous other teams have had to adjust to USWNT players picking up injuries or opting out of the event, the Spirit should be able to put their on-paper best eleven on the field. That includes USWNT midfielders Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan, as well as Japanese international Kumi Yokoyama and rookie Ashley Sanchez.
The core of the group that finished just shy of a playoff spot is also intact, including standout center back pairing Paige Nielsen and Sam Staab, as well as veteran leaders Aubrey Bledsoe and Tori Huster. That said, head coach Richie Burke told All For XI that he is strongly considering a 3412 formation thanks in part to the addition of Canadian international Jenna Hellstrom and the health of Tegan McGrady.
Burke will have little option but to rotate throughout the group, as the lack of prep time allowed before the tournament combined with a compressed schedule will be physically draining for even the fittest players. With no fewer than 13 players who weren’t on the team last year, the challenge of getting those players up to speed on a team that has an established style of play presents arguably the biggest question mark for the Spirit going into the Challenge Cup.
Update 1:21pm: The Spirit also received an updated schedule, which included major changes after the Orlando Pride had to withdraw due to an outbreak of positive coronavirus tests. Initially set to face Utah Royals FC set for next Tuesday, Washington has had its Challenge Cup opener moved up to this coming Saturday, June 27, when they’ll take on the Chicago Red Stars at 10:00pm Eastern.
The Spirit’s second game has also changed: where they were set to play OL Reign on July 4, they will now face the North Carolina Courage three days earlier, again at 10:00pm. While the second pair of games are still against the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash, the days have changed. Washington was going to play Portland on July 8 and Houston on July 13, but now the games are on July 5 (10:00pm) and July 12 (12:30pm).
The knockout round — which the Spirit are now qualified for, as all eight teams will go into the bracket — has maintained its original schedule. Washington’s game there will either be on July 17 or 18, depending on where they finish up at the end of the preliminary round.
The full roster is as follows:
Washington Spirit Challenge Cup roster
|8||Meggie Dougherty Howard|
|10||Rose Lavelle||Federation (USA)|