The Washington Spirit are looking to pair performance with result tonight against the North Carolina Courage. The Spirit have played well for the large majority of both of their NWSL Challenge Cup games thus far, but they only have two draws to show for it. For that to happen, the performance levels can’t drop, as the Courage have exceeded expectations with two wins, both coming thanks to strong all-around performances.
Key player: Tara McKeown
The Spirit have tended to prefer to play Ashley Hatch out to one flank against NC, forcing a Courage fullback to stay home to keep tabs on her. That means that McKeown is likely to play centrally, and that’s a complicated job against the Courage. For one thing, she’ll have to find gaps to get on the ball and hold play up, which can be tough due to the quality of the Courage center backs and the fact that they keep two holding midfielders very close to their back four.
On top of that, McKeown will have to drop off the front line at times to help deny Denise O’Sullivan easy possession. If the Ireland international is allowed to see the field and open the game up, the Courage are a more formidable opponent. If she’s constantly having to shuttle the ball to the first person she sees due to Spirit pressure, suddenly NC can’t get their fullbacks forward in possession, which means they can’t spread the game out as they love to do.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Karina Rodríguez, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar; Gaby Vincent, Andi Sullivan; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch; Tara McKeown
Bench: Devon Kerr, Nicole Barnhart, Camryn Biegalski, Morgan Goff, Anna Heilferty, Taylor Aylmer, Tinaya Alexander
Here’s the injury report:
#WASvNC availability report:#OneSpirit— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) March 30, 2022
Out: Baggett (hip), Bailey (leg), Brooks (suspension), Collins (ACL), Feist (ACL), Huster (achilles), Martin (hip), Sonnett (abdomen)#CourageUnitesUs
Out: Fregulia (knee), C. Murphy (knee), Ratcliffe (thigh), Solaun (knee)#NWSL
Kris Ward said the Spirit were trending positively towards getting “three or four” of the injured players back soon, and Amber Brooks is only suspended for one match, but for tonight that means an old-school gameday 18 rather than the full 20-player squad.
Ward also said that the team planned to start Rodríguez alongside Staab, while mentioning Vincent as a probable starter after Friday’s game, so we’re going to take him at his word. Beyond that, don’t expect too much rotation, and based on past habits against the NC box midfield, we’re likely to see 4231 for the second straight game rather than the Spirit’s normal 433.
Projected Courage starting 11: (4222) - Katelyn Rowland; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett; Malia Berkely, Denise O’Sullivan; Kiki Pickett, Debinha; Taylor Smith, Jaelene Daniels
The big mystery for Sean Nahas is whether, and how much, Debinha can play after missing their weekend game with an excused absence. Nahas says the plan is for her to meet them in the District, but he could only say they were “hopeful” she’d be available tonight. Assuming she can go, our expectation is that she steps in for Brianna Pinto (who went the full 90 four days ago), but it could well be for Kiki Pickett instead.
Starting goalkeeper Casey Murphy is out with a knock, as is potential starting forward Brittany Ratcliffe. The rest of the team seems straightforward, though former UVA striker Diana Ordoñez might be in line for a first pro start if Nahas wants to manage minutes up top. If the Courage rotate more, look for Meredith Speck, Tess Boade, and Ryan Williams to step in.
Referee: Danielle Chesky
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?: Our look back at the Spirit’s draw with Gotham includes some thoughts on what might be coming with tonight’s lineup. Yours truly will also be doing a Plex Weather chat via Twitter Spaces from the stadium before kickoff, so tune in to that if you want more words.
What are you drinking?: The forecast is a little bit warmer than I’ve been expecting, so it’ll probably just be water in the press box rather than hot tea I bring in from home.
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