At long last, the Washington Spirit have a game, as they host Kansas City NWSL at Segra Field. It’s been 28 days since the Spirit had to settle for a 0-0 draw with North Carolina, and since then they’ve had a season’s worth of off-field turmoil. That includes two different forfeited games after violations of league Covid-19 protocols, which were compounded by the international window last week.
However, the visitors can’t be expected to be much sharper, as the oddities of the NWSL schedule mean they haven’t played in three weeks. While KC has just two wins all year and no wins away from home, the Spirit needed a 96th minute goal from Trinity Rodman to beat them back in June. Gotham FC’s win yesterday pushed the Spirit out of the playoff places as well, increasing the pressure to get what would be just their second-ever win in Leesburg.
Key player: Trinity Rodman
Ashley Hatch is out for this one, and while Rodman is probably going to remain on the wing, her off-the-ball movement in behind KC’s defense will have to be sharper than ever without the Spirit’s top scorer drawing attention. No matter which Spirit forward steps into Hatch’s role, Kansas City will be locked in on Rodman after she broke their hearts earlier this season.
Rodman can also set a tone in this game by being in the thick of the game from kickoff. Before the break, she was possibly hampered by a nagging back issue, and with teams game-planning to shut her down, the combination meant sometimes sporadic involvement in games. If Rodman is seeing plenty of the ball on the run in the early stages, she can test a defense that has given up seven goals in their last two road matches.
Location: Segra Field (Leesburg, VA)
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, Tara McKeown, Ashley Sanchez
Bench: Sydney Schneider, Karina Rodríguez, Tegan McGrady, Julia Roddar, Taylor Aylmer, Saori Takarada, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama, Mariana Speckmaier
Despite the barely explained suspension of Devon Kerr and an excused absence for Hatch — the first time all season the latter has been unavailable for a game — the Spirit have nearly every player available for this one. McKeown figures to be the replacement for Hatch at center forward, though it is possible that Rodman could shift inside (with Yokoyama, Heiferty, or Takarada all possibly playing on the right as a result).
Kris Ward told reporters on Friday that there may be some minute management due to the fact that the Spirit have been off so long and now come back on a turf surface, but that likely won’t apply to the returning international players (who apparently are further along fitness-wise thanks to their national team obligations).
The possibility of O’Hara playing right back, or perhaps Takarada or Heilferty, is definitely out there, especially as the Spirit will be expecting to have most of the run of play against KC, but they’ve also had time to work on getting Nielsen forward from right back during the break between games.
Projected Kansas City starting 11: (433) - AD Franch; Kiki Pickett, Elizabeth Ball, Rachel Corsie, Mallory Weber; Kristen Edmonds, Desiree Scott, Victoria Pickett; Kristen Hamilton, Jéssica Silva, Darian Jenkins
KC is mostly healthy, with only two former Spirit players (Chloe Logarzo and Arielle Ship) unavailable. Huw Williams has mostly played out of a diamond 442, but pushed his no. 10 high enough last week that you could say Silva was more of a false 9 than a midfielder. Given that KC had a decent outing, it stands to reason that they’ll stick with that.
However, there may be changes in terms of selection. Hailie Mace could play up front over Jenkins or at left back ahead of Weber, while Lo’eau LaBonta could end up starting over Edmonds as well. Mariana Larroquette may also be given the nod up front instead of Jenkins, especially if KC thinks they’ll have more of the ball rather than this being a largely counter-attacking gameplan. Addie McCain has also gotten her share of starts playing at the point of the midfield diamond, so if Williams wants to play that way, we might see her start, and Silva pushed up as a forward alongside Hamilton.
Referee: Karen Abt
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 do we have to say about it?: There’s a brand new Plex Weather previewing this game, I made it myself!
️ NEW EPISODE ️— Plex Weather (@PlexWeather) September 25, 2021
Got some more tough news to talk about, including @SpiritSquadron's protest, but we also have a real, actual #RiseUpDC soccer game to preview for the first time in a month. @cinderL9 came on to help me preview KC NWSLhttps://t.co/UVvmquaBcg
What are you drinking?: This is really up in the air due to my ability to cover this in person hinging on getting an oil change early enough in the day to have time to make the 2+ hour trip to Leesburg. If I’m at Segra, the typical cold brew en route. If not, lemon seltzer.
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