The Washington Spirit are looking to rebound from a tough loss last weekend, but it won’t be easy as they host the high-flying Portland Thorns tonight at Segra Field. The Thorns have conceded just one goal in their last five games, making light of their numerous Olympic absentees, and have opened up a five-point lead atop the NWSL standings. Washington will also be looking to improve their record in Leesburg, where they’ve one just once in four games all-time, including narrow losses in both matches there in 2021.
Key player: Andi Sullivan
The Thorns have been good at everything this season: they’re the league’s highest-scoring team, they’re tied with Gotham FC for the best defensive record, they’re top of the table, and they’re if anything getting better of late. Portland took 13 of a possible 15 points in July.
So they’re good everywhere, but they’re particularly good in the midfield, where they’ve mastered the rotations necessary to succeed out of their midfield diamond. They keep the ball and create chances, but they’re also very difficult to play through, routinely throwing teams out of their stride by maintaining their shape and forcing turnovers.
Last week, Sullivan was critical of her own performance, saying post-game that she needed to switch fields more often and make sure that the Spirit were less predictable against Chicago, who also floods the midfield with a compact, well-drilled group. The Spirit have the weapons to punish Portland for the risk their diamond formation comes with (namely, isolated fullbacks), but only if the entire midfield is able to draw the Thorns too far to one side or the other.
Moving the pieces around is in Sullivan’s wheelhouse, as is that long crossfield ball to open things up, and the Spirit’s chances against Portland hinge on seeing that happen on a frequent basis.
Location: Segra Field (Leesburg, VA)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (formation) - Aubrey Bledsoe; Anna Heilferty, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Chinyelu Asher; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Karina Rodriguez, Camryn Biegalski, Taylor Aylmer, Morgan Goff, Jordan DiBiasi, Saori Takarada, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown
We begin as usual with the injury report:
#WASvPOR injury report— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) August 6, 2021
Out: Collins (ACL), Feist (ACL), McGrady (hip), Speckmaier (knee)
Intl: O'Hara, Sonnett, Roddar
Out: Ryan (ankle), Strom-Okimoto (excused), Weaver (ankle)
?-able: Lussi (hip)
Intl: Dunn, Franch, Horan, Sinclair, Sauerbrunn#RiseUpDC #NWSL
Left back is the big question, with no fewer than four possible options unavailable due to injury or international duty. That still leaves us with plenty of possibilities: Asher started last week, but we could see Heilferty move over there (with Biegalski coming in). Takarada had moments playing as a fullback in preseason, and could be an intriguing possibility (though it feels like the team might not be looking at her to start until she has more time back in the country after the Olympics). Aylmer and Goff could also get their shot.
With Portland’s midfield strength, Huster is probably needed there rather than joining that list of fullback possibilities. Richie Burke said Bailey is back fit, so look for the Spirit to go with the front six that has been behind their best moments of the season. That means moving out of last week’s 4231 shape and back to the 433 that will see Sanchez dropping off the front line and July’s NWSL Player of the Month slashing in from the left.
Projected Portland starting 11: (4312) - Bella Bixby; Natalia Kuikka, Emily Menges, Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg; Celeste Boureille, Angela Salem, Raquel Rodriguez; Marissa Everett; Sophia Smith, Simone Charley
Mark Parsons hasn’t had much reason to change his lineup of late, what with the Thorns coming off of an outstanding July. While he did toggle between which side of the midfield diamond Rodriguez and Boureille play on depending on opponents, the starting eleven seems more or less set right now, especially with Morgan Weaver unavailable due to injury.
Off the bench, Portland may be able to call on Maryland native Tyler Lussi after moving her up from out to questionable with an injury, while Parsons has shown a preference for sticking with two forwards even while protecting a lead in most games. With the Olympians still away, there’s also a distinct possibility that 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie comes into this game as a second-half substitute.
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva
Available TV: None
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What are you drinking?: Got a good result with lime seltzer on Wednesday with United, so let’s see if the luck carries over for the Spirit.
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