The Washington Spirit are in Texas tonight to face the Houston Dash having already dealt with an extraordinarily challenging week. Former head coach Richie Burke was first said to have stepped aside due to “health concerns,” before reports from The Athletic and the Washington Post revealed that the Spirit had actually fired Burke amid significant allegations of verbal and emotional abuse.
That has made tonight’s game against a team on a similar run of disappointing form a footnote, but the NWSL schedule is rolling on. Washington and Houston both sit outside the playoff places, making this game — hopefully a welcome distraction in a way for the Spirit’s players and staff — an important one at what could be an inflection point for both sides.
player concept: Set piece defending
Sometimes the numbers do tell the story. Houston has scored over 1⁄4 of their goals this year (4 of 15) on corner kicks, while the Spirit have conceded 1⁄3 of their goals on set pieces (5 of 15), and have also conceded a penalty kick from a half-cleared corner. Based on performance, it’s a worrisome mismatch, but the Spirit are more than capable of defending set pieces, and in fact had only given up one such goal in their first seven games of the regular season.
Yes, the Dash are missing Kristie Mewis (whose delivery on dead balls has been hands down the best in the league this year), but they’re still a team that will likely have focused on exploiting this strength of theirs. For Washington to get a second win in Houston this year, it seems very likely that they’re going to have to get through these 90 minutes without giving away too many set piece opportunities, and they’ll have to win battles and clear their lines safely when the Dash do get to send players forward.
Location: BBVA Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Saori Takarada, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Karina Rodriguez, Camryn Biegalski, Chinyelu Asher, Taylor Aylmer, Jordan DiBiasi, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown
This constitutes a big guess, since we don’t know what changes (if any) Ward and Crichton have planned. It would have been tough to institute a major shift though, since the Spirit’s coaching change is all of four days old, and one of those days went to travel. Here’s the injury report:
#HOUvWAS injury report— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) August 12, 2021
International: Chapman, Prince (both Canada), Campbell, Mewis (both USA)
Out: Collins (ACL), Feist (ACL), Speckmaier (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DiBiasi (hip)
International: Roddar (Sweden), O’Hara, Sonnett (both USA)#RiseUpDC #NWSL
McGrady’s return, assuming she’s cleared to play from the start, leaves the coaching staff with a choice between Takarada and Heilferty at right back that could go either way. That might be the only change that fell 1-0 to Portland last week, but we may see DiBiasi get some limited minutes off the bench after she was moved to questionable on the injury report. If the team decides to give her one more week to build up her fitness, Morgan Goff will very likely be in uniform instead.
Projected Houston starting 11: (4141) - Lindsey Harris; Haley Hanson, Megan Oyster, Katie Naughton, Jamia Fields; Emily Ogle; Makamae Gomera-Stevens, Shea Groom, Gabby Seiler, Jasmyne Spencer; Veronica Latsko
James Clarkson may want to make some big changes coming off of a disastrous 5-1 road loss to OL Reign. We’re only listing one change from that team, but realistically a game that goes that badly (and 5-1 may even flatter the Dash) comes with changes. We could see former Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn come in for Ogle, or Bri Visalli on one of the wings, or new signing Andrea Hauksdottir coming into a midfield role (allowing Seiler to play as a defensive midfielder or left back).
Houston might be able to add two starters into the mix, as Clarkson has not ruled out Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt. If the two Olympians are back and ready to start, Daly will be up front, with Latsko probably moving to the right wing, and Schmidt will plug back into her role as the team’s no. 6.
Referee: Laura Rodriguez
Available TV: None
Available streaming: Twitch (USA and everywhere else)
What are you drinking?: you know what to do here
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