Just days after a “home” win in Texas, the Washington Spirit are on the road to face OL Reign in Tacoma tonight. Both sides are coming off of what look like important wins over good opponents, but while the Reign have been prepping all week for this game and adding Rose Lavelle to their squad, the Spirit played in Texas heat and humidity on Wednesday and are without their suspended captain Andi Sullivan.
In other words, while the trip to Houston was a strong indicator that this Washington team has a lot of resilience, tonight looks like it’ll be just as demanding a test.
Key player: Kelley O’Hara
With rotation probable, it seems that tonight, O’Hara will be over on the right side, with Tegan McGrady coming in on the left. If that’s the case, O’Hara will be up against Megan Rapinoe, who has returned from 2020’s Covid-19 isolation looking refreshed and dialed in. The Spirit’s right back will have to out-think Rapinoe and defend without fouling. You don’t want to give the Reign set piece looks, as Portland learned last week in conceding twice from dead balls in a home loss.
On top of that, the Spirit need to dig deep after playing Wednesday in Houston, flying home for a day, then turning around and flying cross-country. They’re playing without Sullivan, and “Spirit at Reign” is a phrase that brings up some absolutely wretched memories for fans. All of this is to say that O’Hara’s all-action style, which can be infectious, is hopefully something the rest of the team can mirror and build off of.
Location: Cheney Stadium (Tacoma, WA)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Natalie Jacobs, Ashley Sanchez, Julia Roddar; Trinity Rodman, Tara McKeown, Saori Takarada
Bench: Devon Kerr, Camryn Biegalski, Tori Huster, Dorian Bailey, Jordan DiBiasi, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama, Mariana Speckmaier, Ashley Hatch
Like we said, Sullivan is suspended, and the injury report remains unchanged. That leaves us with a bit of confusion about Bailey, who did travel to Tacoma with the team after apparently separating her shoulder against Louisville. If she can play from the start, look for her to step in for Roddar (who seems like a candidate for rotation after playing mid-week), while Jacobs has earned the chance to deputize for Sullivan.
We’ll probably see more rotation elsewhere. McGrady starting makes a lot of sense, with O’Hara and Huster feeling likely to split the game at right back (unless Huster is used in midfield instead).
Despite her recent goalscoring, Hatch has been playing through knocks, and may be kept in reserve, with McKeown playing centrally and Takarada (or possibly Yokoyama?) completing the front three. We could also see Richie Burke, with an eye to the narrow field dimensions, move Sanchez up to the forward line and play a Bailey - Jacobs - Roddar midfield.
Projected OL Reign starting 11: (433) - Karen Bardsley; Steph Cox, Madison Hammond, Kristen McNabb, Lauren Barnes; Jess Fishlock, Dani Weatherholt, Shirley Cruz; Sofia Huerta, Leah Pruitt, Megan Rapinoe
Farid Benstiti is without at least one starter (right back Celía) and probably another (defensive midfielder Quinn), and coming off of a win in Portland, it seems likely that he’ll stick with an unchanged lineup to face the Spirit. If Quinn can go, they would replace one of either Weatherholt or Cruz, with Weatherholt moving into a ball-winning role further up if it’s the latter.
Elsewhere, Rose Lavelle has declared herself fully fit and ready to go, which if you’re a Spirit fan you’re just loathing on a deep level. She probably hasn’t trained with the Reign enough to start, but it’s a distinct possibility she plays serious minutes off the bench. Benstiti’s got some other weapons too, like Tziarra King and Bethany Balcer. The Reign’s roster might have some redundancies, but it’s not short on really good players.
Referee: Samantha Martinez
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Paramount+ (USA), Twitch (international)
What are you drinking?: It’s looking like it’ll be a lemon Lacroix, but with today’s March 12th sort of forecast, I might actually end up with some hot green tea instead.
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