The Washington Spirit have battled their way through an NWSL gauntlet, finishing 1-1-1 after facing the league’s three top sides from 2019 to start the Challenge Cup. Today, however, is a different task: taking on the upstart Houston Dash in the final game for both clubs before the knockout rounds. The Dash, who have since added some experienced veterans from around the league, seem to have figured out their identity, but will be looking to bounce back from a stumble in their last game. Washington, meanwhile, will want to build after fighting back to get a draw against Portland a week ago.
Key player: Andi Sullivan
The Dash have specialized in figuring out when and where to press, and then jumping into action whenever any of those triggers happen. From there, they’ve been direct and effective, making them a difficult opponent to shut down. Only the seemingly unstoppable North Carolina Courage have matched Houston’s 5 goals so far in the Challenge Cup. Sullivan’s the key figure for the Spirit in their attempts to build out of the back, and the Dash will surely be trying to cut the connection between her and the Washington back four.
That’s a major reason to pick Sullivan here, but it’s not the only one. There’s also at least one major midfield absentee (and possibly two, as we’ll get to in a moment), making her leadership and playmaking ability from deep all the more important. On top of all that, Dash attacking midfielder Shea Groom will most likely be in her face all game long, which is always a demanding experience to say the least.
Location: Zions Bank Stadium (Herriman, UT)
Kickoff time: 12:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Tori Huster, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Dorian Bailey, Andi Sullivan, Bayley Feist; Kumi Yokoyama, Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez
Bench: Devon Kerr, Brooke Hendrix, Natalie Jacobs, Jenna Hellstrom, Jaye Boissiere, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Rose Lavelle, Crystal Thomas, Katie McClure
Let’s start with the injury news:
Richie Burke said he might hold players out to make sure they’re fit for the knockout round games, which likely relates to all three players on the injury report. On the other hand, Thomas is not mentioned at all, meaning we’ll probably see her make her Challenge Cup debut off the bench. It’s also good to see that McGrady got through another scary collision without ending up having to miss any time.
With that in mind, Burke wants to treat this game as being like an elimination game, so look for him to lean on starters. That means Bledsoe, the normal back four, the normal front three, and just two noteworthy changes: Jordan DiBiasi and Rose Lavelle will probably see their roles go to Bailey and Feist (or possibly Meggie Dougherty Howard) for the night. If Burke opts to leave Lavelle out entirely, Averie Collins might have the edge to be the 20th player named to the bench.
Projected Houston starting 11: (4231) - Jane Campbell; Erin Simon, Megan Oyster, Katie Naughton, Allysha Chapman; Haley Hanson, Kristie Mewis; Katie Stengel, Shea Groom, Nichelle Prince; Rachel Daly
James Clarkson hasn’t rotated a whole lot for the Dash, and that might have played a part in their poor showing in a 2-0 loss to Sky Blue FC on Wednesday. However, they also had issues because the newcomers Clarkson did bring in all struggled badly.
However, this is a bit of a guess, since Houston is coming into this game on short rest. Prince hasn’t gotten a start yet, so she seems like a good bet to get the nod on one wing. Chapman didn’t start that game, so she’ll probably cycle back in at left back. Players like Sophie Schmidt, Bri Visalli, and Veronica Latsko could also end up starting.
Referee: Katja Koroleva
Available TV: None live. CBS Sports Network has the game listed to be broadcast on tape delay at 7pm tonight.
What do we have to say about it?: You’ve got time between the end of D.C. United’s game and the start of this one to read André Carlisle’s excellent piece on Sanchez, and to listen to the latest episode of Plex Weather.
What are you drinking?: Stayed up for the late late MLS game, got up early for United, so let’s assume there’s a third cup of coffee ready for me for this game.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.