The Washington Spirit received some very bad news today, as captain and midfield anchor Andi Sullivan was diagnosed with a torn meniscus. Sullivan’s injury happened early in the second half of yesterday’s 1-0 win over the Houston Dash. Head coach Richie Burke told media post-game that she would undergo an MRI, which revealed an injury that the club says will take three to six months to heal.
“I’m obviously disappointed to not be out there playing, but I’m excited to watch the rest of the tournament and I’m hoping to see my team win it all in the end. I’m hopeful that I can continue to build off of the performances I had in the Challenge Cup after I complete rehab in a few months, and I’m confident that I will come back from this injury stronger,” said Sullivan in a team press release. “I’m grateful to everyone who has reached out to me, asked me how I’m doing and sent good vibes my way. It means a lot, and I will carry those with me throughout my recovery.”
Sullivan’s injury comes in a year where she was beginning to establish herself as a regular USWNT call-up under Vlatko Andonovski. Despite extraordinary depth in central midfield, Sullivan was starting to look like Andonovski’s preferred back-up for Julie Ertz. While national team camps and games are currently a mystery due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sullivan’s absence will concern both club and country.
In the near term, the Spirit say that Sullivan will depart the team’s Challenge Cup lodgings and head back home for surgery before going to conduct her rehab in Sacramento, home of her husband (Sacramento Republic midfielder Drew Skundrich).
Burke’s system is largely built around Sullivan, but he does have options. Meggie Dougherty Howard has appeared to be Burke’s first choice in the deep-lying role Sullivan normally plays, and the fourth-year midfielder has played 123 minutes across three appearances thus far in the Challenge Cup. Burke also brought in newcomer Jaye Boissiere in that role for 20 minutes against North Carolina. There is also the possibility of Dorian Bailey or Natalie Jacobs coming in at right back, which would allow Tori Huster to move back into the midfield role she played for most of her Spirit career.
Another option could potentially be a move away from the 433 formation that Burke and his squad seem most comfortable with. Burke has mentioned a 343 or 352 at times, and a 4231 does not necessarily require someone to sit quite as deep as Sullivan usually does in her normal role.