The Washington Spirit will be looking to build on a vital win as they host the North Carolina Courage at Audi Field this evening. The Spirit, winners thanks to some late magic last week, have after years of losses started to have some success against the Courage, including a 2-0 win in their last meeting that was as complete a performance as any Spirit match in club history.
However, North Carolina have allowed just one goal in their last five games — winning three straight in the process — and all signs point to the Spirit needing to be as good or better than they were back on July 10th if they’re going to start a run of victories.
Key player: Ashley Sanchez
After last week’s incredible game-winner, it’s hard not to pick Sanchez. But even if she had scored a more mundane goal that weren’t so late in the game, she would be the pick here for one simple fact: the Courage haven’t allowed a goal in 310 minutes of NWSL play. NC has overcome the fact that they have a bit less top-tier talent this year by focusing relentlessly on their defending and press, and the result is that they essentially never give up soft goals. If you score on the Courage, you probably earned it the hard way.
Sanchez will have to be at her creative best in this one, in other words. That doesn’t just mean with the ball, either. If Sanchez isn’t constantly working to find space off the ball, the Spirit won’t be able to get her enough touches to break this game open.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 5:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Paige Nielsen, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Kelley O’Hara; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez
Bench: Devon Kerr, Tegan McGrady, Camryn Biegalski, Saori Takarada, Julia Roddar, Taylor Aylmer, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown
The front six are an easy call, especially if you (like we did) assume that Sanchez will be available from the start this week. She’s not on the injury report at all:
It’s the back four where things get difficult. Kris Ward said after last week’s win that O’Hara and Sonnett were expected to be ready for a full 90 today, but starting them means dropping or moving players who have done very well lately.
Our guess is based on Ward’s clear statement that he views Sonnett as a center back rather than as a fullback, and some early-season discussion of the possibility of Nielsen playing right back. But we could see O’Hara on the right with McGrady or Heilferty coming in on the left, or Takarada maintaining her role on the right, or Roddar could get a start on either flank...look, it’s complicated!
Projected Courage starting 11: (4222) - Casey Murphy; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett; Angharad James, Denise O’Sullivan; Meredith Speck, Debinha; Amy Rodriguez, Lynn Williams
Paul Riley will be without Sam Mewis, who underwent knee surgery recently, and may be without Erceg, the team’s captain and defensive organizer as well. Replacing Erceg will probably come down to Schuyler DeBree, Diane Caldwell, or Cari Roccaro, but Erceg has been listed as questionable and then started a few times over the years. Bet on seeing her in the lineup.
The trickier question is in the attacking midfield position alongside Debinha. Riley has tried multiple players in that spot when coping without Mewis this year, but it seems no one has won the job. Riley specifically praised Speck last week, so we’re guessing she’ll get the nod, but it could be Jess McDonald playing out of position.
Referee: Greg Dopja
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?: As long as it keeps being hot out, the recipe remains the same: cold brew for the drive in, water in the press box.
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