The Washington Spirit are looking to bounce back from a season-opening loss as they host NWSL expansion club Racing Louisville tonight at Audi Field. The newest club in the league brought plenty of energy, but showed their inexperience as well in a dramatic late draw against Orlando. Washington will be the favorites, but they will have to sort some organizational issues to avoid giving up the kind of chances they conceded in North Carolina last week.
Key player: Dorian Bailey
With Louisville showing a knack for playing early balls out of the midfield and creating danger, any Spirit central midfielder (defensive or attacking) could be cited here. However, Bailey may be the most indicative of how this one is going. If she’s thriving, the Spirit will be setting the tempo, staying connected on both sides of the ball, and there will be fewer openings to play those dangerous through balls from deep spots.
There’s also the more obvious defensive job. Facing a Louisville team that is built around a seemingly locked-in Savannah McCaskill and the ever-dangerous Yuki Nagasato. Those two will look to combine frequently between the lines, and given the ease with which they cut Orlando up in the early going, it seems like an obvious point of focus for the Spirit. If Bailey is able to control this section of the field in both ways, Washington will be well set-up to get their first win of 2021.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (3412) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Julia Roddar, Paige Nielsen, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Natalie Jacobs, Dorian Bailey, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Sanchez; Kumi Yokoyama, Trinity Rodman
Bench: Devon Kerr, Sydney Schneider, Sam Staab, Camryn Biegalski, Saori Takarada, Chinyelu Asher, Cali Farquharson, Mariana Speckmaier, Ashley Hatch
The injury report didn’t change for the Spirit, and even if they were reckless enough to play their returning USWNT players hours after they get off a transcontinental flight, they aren’t allowed due to Covid-19 protocols.
However, they may be able to call on Takarada and Speckmaier, who will just barely be beyond the protocol time limits (provided the Japanese and Venezuelan federations follow USWNT guidelines, and provided they have negative covid tests). If Takarada is up for it after the long trip back to the US, she could even get into the lineup, most likely in the back three (which would allow McGrady to play her more natural wingback role on the left).
Staab could also come in and play to some degree depending on how severe her hip injury is. One distinct possibility is that Hatch may only be able to contribute as a sub rather than start, which would likely mean Rodman in the lineup at kickoff. With Huster and Nielsen also carrying knocks, Biegalski and Farquharson could possibly play serious minutes as well.
Projected Louisville starting 11: (4231) - Michelle Betos; Erin Simon, Nealy Martin, Brooke Hendrix, Emily Fox; Lauren Milliet, Freja Olofsson; Emina Ekic, Savannah McCaskill, Yuki Nagasato; Cece Kizer
Christy Holly’s side, after some wild late drama in their first-ever competitive game, may be without as many as four players that started in that 2-2 draw, including both holding midfielders in the 4231 they used against Orlando. Additionally, Jorian Baucom is suspended after the NWSL DisCo took a look at her tackle on Ali Riley, while former Spirit attacker Cheyna Matthews (and defender Addisyn Merrick) are out as well. Another former Spirit player, forward Katie McClure, is questionable as well.
It’s not really clear what the new kids are going to do here if every questionable player has to miss out. 11th overall pick Taylor Otto is a solid candidate in the engine room if Milliet or Olofsson have to sit out, while McClure or Vanessa Kara would be an option to step in for Ekic or Kizer.
Despite the absentees, Nagasato’s long history of bringing her absolute best against the Spirit should be well known, and during a portion of the first half, Racing completely dominated their game against Orlando. They’re a tricky opponent to face, especially with a lack of track record to evaluate.
Referee: As of about eight hours ago when this was written, PRO has not announced a referee for tonight’s game.
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Paramount+ (USA), Twitch (international)
What do we have to say about it?: The dynamic of what the Spirit need to do in the midfield is spelled out more in this look back on the opener, while we also have a piece on Rodman where she and Burke break down an effective tactical change.
What are you drinking?: Based on the gloomy, chilly forecast, I’m prepping my insulated bottle with hot tea (one bag of green tea, one bag of lemon and ginger tea).
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