The Washington Spirit, who just had a five-game unbeaten streak broken, will be looking to end an opponent’s run of good form today at Audi Field as they host the red-hot North Carolina Courage. The Courage have won four straight games, conceding just one goal in that time, charging up to the top of the NWSL standings.
This has long been a tough match for the Spirit, but the last time they hosted the Courage, they posted a 2-1 at the Maryland SoccerPlex, finally beating NC for the first time after having lost all nine previous meetings. This may be a Courage side missing potential Best 11 stars due to the Olympics, but it will still take the mental strength and quality of play the Spirit showed at the Plex that night to get back to winning ways.
Key player: Paige Nielsen
Richie Burke has, in the past, referred to Spirit vs. Courage as being akin to the battle between a matador and a bull. The metaphor is clear: the Spirit’s possession-based style will see them try to keep NC chasing, while the Courage’s relentless high press will attempt to disrupt that and create turnovers. If this game sees the Spirit holding possession for long spells, that’s good! If this game is frenetic and Washington can’t connect more than four or five passes in a row, that’s bad!
This is a collective task for sure, with movement, technique, and anticipation all over the field being crucial to find a way to pass around NC’s pressure. But we’re focusing on Nielsen, who so often is where that possession starts. Washington will look for her, Andi Sullivan, and Sam Staab to keep the ball moving, slowly but surely opening up avenues to either play around the Courage box midfield, or maybe even through it at times.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Anna Heilferty, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Sydney Schneider, Karina Rodriguez, Camryn Biegalski, Morgan Goff, Chinyelu Asher, Jordan DiBiasi, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown, Mariana Speckmaier
The Spirit are now officially in the Olympic player shortage, with Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Saori Takarada, and Julia Roddar all unavailable. This week’s injury report includes one new name, but it’s not the player anyone might have expected: Trinity Rodman has apparently overcome the back spasms that forced her out of last week’s game early, but Devon Kerr is in concussion protocol and will miss out today. Bledsoe’s back-up will be Schneider as a result.
The real question right now is at right back. Burke wasn’t happy with the service his fullbacks provided last week, and Heilferty might have the edge as a result. However, we could also easily see Huster move back (with Sanchez in the midfield and McKeown or Yokoyama starting up front) or Biegalski getting another shot. Rodriguez could also get a look there, as Burke said he sees her as having some positional versatility.
Projected NC starting 11: (4222) - Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett; Denise O’Sullivan, Angharad James; Havana Solaun, Kristen Hamilton; Hailie Mace, Jess McDonald
The Olympics have deprived Paul Riley of some big names: Sam Mewis, Debinha, and Lynn Williams are all off to Tokyo. However, New Zealand hasn’t convened their camp yet, so Erceg is available to captain the team at center back.
With Mewis and Debinha away, former Spirit playmaker Solaun is likely to move into an attacking role. Her spot as a defensive midfielder feels likely to go to James, though Cari Roccaro or Meredith Speck could also be in contention. Hamilton will be needed in midfield, so Lynn Williams’ starting spot will probably go to Mace (who appears to have the edge lately over Brittany Ratcliffe).
Referee: Matthew Franz
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Paramount+ (USA), Twitch (global). If you subscribe to Paramount+ via this link, your friends at B&RU get some cash!
What do we have to say about it?: Well there’s a brand new Plex Weather, that’s what!
️ New Episode ️— Plex Weather (@PlexWeather) July 9, 2021
Plex Weather has overcome Jason's weaknesses at scheduling and is back!
This ep talks about Kumi Yokoyama coming out, Natalie Jacobs being waived, and points from each of the last 3 games + a look ahead to NC #RiseUpDC #NWSLhttps://t.co/IM2kp4Qedq
What are you drinking?: It’s looking like it’s gonna be sunny all day, and I’m looking to break my routine, so: Coke Slurpee on my way in, water at the stadium.
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