The knockout round of the NWSL Challenge Cup has begun, and the Washington Spirit enter today’s quarterfinal against Sky Blue FC as the top remaining seed left in the tournament. North Carolina’s stunning loss yesterday has opened up the expectations for everyone left in the Challenge Cup, and going out at this stage would rate as a distinct disappointment.
For the Spirit, that means building on some promising performances in the preliminary stage, but it also means continuing a long-standing trend. Washington has completely dominated the recent history of this pairing, having gone 8W-2D-0L in the last ten meetings between these sides. Yes, even in the dire 2018 season, the Spirit did not lose to Sky Blue. But of course, things have changed in New Jersey, and Washington’s nearest geographic rival has noticeably improved since this event began. A single backwards step for the Spirit could be enough to allow for another Challenge Cup upset.
Location: Zions Bank Stadium (Herriman, UT)
Kickoff time: 12:30pm Eastern
Bench: Devon Kerr, Brooke Hendrix, Natalie Jacobs, Jenna Hellstrom, Dorian Bailey, Jaye Boissiere, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Crystal Thomas, Averie Collins
We’re expecting something of a surprise from Richie Burke, who may be leaning towards rewarding Feist with another start given that she’s been so good thus far in the tournament. With Lavelle and DiBiasi probably back from injury, the open midfield spot is Andi Sullivan’s. It’s not a completely natural fit, but Feist’s ball-winning ability, mobility, and comfort in possession could be a good fit for this match-up.
However, this is very much up in the air. It could be Dougherty Howard in that spot, or Boissiere. If DiBiasi isn’t able to play from the start, Feist will probably be further up the field with someone else at the base of the midfield...unless she stays deep and Bailey comes in. Got all that? Because this is the short version that doesn’t even get into formation changes.
Other than that, the biggest question probably concerns the forwards on the bench. Katie McClure could end up getting the nod over either Thomas (who hasn’t played yet due to injury) or Collins, but Burke could also include all three at the expense of a midfielder or defender.
Projected Sky Blue starting 11: (4231) - Kailen Sheridan; Sabrina Flores, Gina Lewandowski, Estelle Johnson, Imani Dorsey; Sarah Woldmoe, Jennifer Cudjoe; Paige Monaghan, McCall Zerboni, Nahomi Kawasumi; Ifeoma Onumonu
Freya Coombe hasn’t rotated all that much, but she might have a problem on the right wing today. Monaghan is questionable, as is her primary back-up Elizabeth Eddy. Sky Blue have used three wingers across their four games, with Kawasumi the third of the trio, so if both Monaghan and Eddy can’t start, Coombe will have to get creative. We could see Midge Purce come in at a more natural attacking role, but she’s also questionable with a knock. Rookie striker Evelyne Viens could come in up top, with Onumonu moving wide, but Onumonu has been arguably Sky Blue’s most consistent player at the Challenge Cup as a forward.
Referee: Tori Penso
Available TV: None live. CBS Sports Network has the game listed to be broadcast on tape delay at 9pm tonight.
What do we have to say about it?: We got deeper into the options that Burke has to replace Sullivan after the news broke mid-week.
What are you drinking?: I’m still up after 2am writing this, so I’ll probably just hold off on my morning coffee until just before the game.
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