The Washington Spirit are aiming to come out of the international break in the same form they had going in, but they face a tricky fixture today as they head up to New Jersey to face NJ/NY Gotham FC. Both teams need to win to maintain any chance of winning the NWSL Challenge Cup’s East group, and both will be looking at this game as a chance to make a statement.
For Washington, that statement would be to end Gotham’s frustrating ability to escape with a result even when outplayed by the Spirit. On the other side, Gotham has not convinced in any game thus far in the Challenge Cup, and what better way to convince than by taking down the defending NWSL champs?
Key player: Ashley Sanchez
Sanchez has been in otherworldly form to start 2022, and now has two USWNT goals to go with her play for Washington. That doesn’t just include being effective, either, as Sanchez put on a show the last time that these teams met, including a highlight-reel feint that sent Ali Krieger tumbling to the ground at Segra Field.
That touched off some Twitter banter that gave us what is the frontrunner of NWSL Post of the Year, but let’s not get lost in the tweets. Sanchez with the ball at her feet is the key to so much of what the Spirit are doing this year, and Gotham will surely be setting up a gameplan that involves denying her the time to face up and get running at goal, and making sure no one gets isolated against her in transition.
The Spirit, obviously, will want those things to happen all game long, so that’s the tactical battle to keep an eye on. If Washington can find Sanchez in enough space — in possession or in transition — they’ll very likely find more than enough chances to win the game.
Location: Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Camryn Biegalski; Taylor Aylmer, Julia Roddar; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Amber Brooks, Alia Martin, Karina Rodríguez, Morgan Goff, Dorian Bailey, Jordan Baggett, Bayley Feist, Tinaya Alexander
Here’s the injury report that came out very late last night:
#NJNYvWAS availability report#OneSpirit— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) April 17, 2022
Out: Collins (knee), McKeown (foot), Vincent (calf)
Questionable: Bailey (ankle), Sullivan (calf)#yerrrr
Out: Cudjoe (suspension), Flores (knee),
Lewandowski (COVID protocol), Long (maternity)
Questionable: Jean (non-COVID illness)
There’s a lot of good news here: Sonnett, Martin, and (for the first time in over a year) Feist are off the injury report entirely. However, with Bailey possibly available and possibly not, and the Spirit likely taking a cautions approach with Andi Sullivan (who played the full 90 twice in a row with the USWNT this past week), there will need to be an adjustment.
Ward straight up said he was going to start Aylmer and Roddar in central midfield, so we know that much. Biegalski, who got an assist from left back against Orlando, will probably start there so Roddar is free to play in the midfield. If Bailey and Sullivan are both out, though, the Spirit will have two goalkeepers available off the bench, as Nicole Barnhart is the only other player on the roster not listed above.
Projected Gotham starting 11: (4312) - Ashlyn Harris; Caprice Dydasco, Ali Krieger, Mandy Freeman, Imani Dorsey; McCall Zerboni, Taryn Torres, Nahomi Kawasumi; Kristie Mewis; Midge Purce, Ifeoma Onumonu
Gotham had been committed to this set-up, which they see as a 433 but that requires the center forward to always play underneath two strikers, but their last game against the Courage saw them try out a 4231 that would occasionally become a 5221, and later shift into a 352 trying to push for a win. They’ve also played a true 433 since the last time these teams met, so it’s probably wise to allow for a lot of possibilities here.
Jennifer Cudjoe’s suspension and Gina Lewandowski being in Covid-19 protocol will require lineup adjustments no matter the formation, and Scott Parkinson has to keep an eye on his national team players as well. Purce, Mewis (both USWNT) and Onumonu (Nigeria) were both in action during this window, and it stands to reason that one or both will have to be monitored for overuse. Winger Paige Monaghan and rookie Cameron Tucker are the options to come in for Purce and Onumonu if either need to be rested, while Mewis could make way for Kumi Yokoyama in this formation, or Domi Richardson if Gotham goes 4231 again.
Referee: Elvis Osmanovic
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?: Having already braved a long jaunt on 95 once this week, I’m taking this one in from home. That means lime seltzer.
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