The Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage meet tonight in Cary in a game that was originally scheduled for nearly two weeks ago. The “why” on what caused that game to be moved back were some allegations of horrific misconduct, with players around the league banding together and declaring that things couldn’t go on like this any longer.
NWSL has resumed play amid that backdrop, and this match will feature two teams that have both been at the center of the worst of what the league has to offer off the field, while also being two of its stronger teams on it. In a league with incredibly tense competition for playoff spots, tonight’s game will go a long way towards determining the postseason fate for both sides.
Key player: Sam Staab
The attention may have gone elsewhere due to the play of Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch, but Staab has quietly put together two outstanding performances this week. A key in both games was Staab being able to defend one-on-one, and with NC likely to push numbers forward, that will probably be the case again tonight. While the Courage have had some inconsistent form lately, this is still a team that has Debinha and Lynn Williams, so they’re always dangerous going forward.
If Staab and the Spirit defense hold up under that kind of pressure, they’re setting the team up to take what would be a critical win.
Location: Sahlen’s Stadium (Cary, NC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Paige Nielsen, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Kelley O’Hara; Tori Huster, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Karina Rodríguez, Camryn Biegalski, Tegan McGrady, Julia Roddar, Taylor Aylmer, Saori Takarada, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown
Andi Sullivan, who was substituted after a collision about an hour into Saturday’s game, has been added to the injury report with what B&RU is told is a minor knee injury. While they hope she can make the trip for this weekend’s big game against OL Reign, she’s out tonight.
The Spirit played Bailey and Huster as a double pivot, moving into a 4231 against Louisville, and that might be the move from the start as a result of Sullivan’s absence. However, either could play at the base of a more typical midfield triangle if Kris Ward wants to stick with the more customary 433. In that latter case, that could mean Sanchez starting in the same spot she did on the weekend (right-center midfield) or out on the wing, with Takarada or Roddar possibly coming into a midfield role.
Rotation is still going to be important, and it would not be a surprise to see Ward using multiple subs either at halftime or the hour mark, as there’s a cross-country trip around the corner.
Projected Courage starting 11: (4222) - Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett; Cari Roccaro, Denise O’Sullivan; Meredith Speck, Debinha; Lynn Williams, Amy Rodriguez
The Courage appear to have moved away from the back three experiments we saw for a spell earlier this year, with interim head coach Sean Nahas playing their traditional 442 box midfield in the two games they’ve played this week. Not only that, it appears Nahas has settled on a best eleven, as he started the same group both times (and even had quite similar substitution patterns after that).
However, coming off of a 4-1 demolition at the hands of Houston, and this being the third game in a week, it seems safe to expect at least some changes. Our prediction is Roccaro for Angharad James and Speck for Jess McDonald, but players like Ryan Williams and Taylor Smith are also in contention.
Referee: Sergii Demianchuk
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Paramount+ (USA), Twitch (international). If you subscribe to Paramount+ via this link, your friends at B&RU get some cash!
What are you drinking?: Some kind of citrus seltzer, you know the drill by now.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.
Black and Red United has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Black and Red United and Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our guiding principles.