The Washington Spirit have rounded into form, but face their toughest task yet in the 2022 Challenge Cup as they head on the road to face the North Carolina Courage. Since falling behind by two goals at Audi Field to this Courage side, the Spirit have outscored opponents 9-2, storming back in that game to get a draw before big wins in their next two games. However, North Carolina holds the edge in terms of advancing to the knockout round, and the Spirit very likely need what would be just their second win ever in Cary to advance in the tournament.
Key player: Julia Roddar
The spine of the Washington lineup has been impacted by absences quite a bit during the Challenge Cup, which has among other things has meant Roddar has spent as much of her time in midfield than at left back, where she entered the year as the projected starter. While her 2021 performances seemed to underline that she’s better wide than in the middle, Roddar has done well in 2022 when having to play centrally, even when the adjustment is a mid-game improvisation based on injuries elsewhere.
However, there are few assignments in women’s soccer tougher than being a holding midfielder on the road against a team featuring Debinha, and that’s the job Roddar has today. With Andi Sullivan and Dorian Bailey both listed as questionable to play and Taylor Aylmer suspended, Roddar’s ability to disrupt NC’s attacking play, track runners, and play out of the typical level of Courage pressure will all be keys if the Spirit are going to get the win they very likely need to proceed in the Challenge Cup.
Location: Sahlen’s Stadium (Cary, NC)
Kickoff time: 1:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Amber Brooks, Karina Rodríguez, Camryn Biegalski; Emily Sonnett, Julia Roddar; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Nicole Barnhart, Alia Martin, Morgan Goff, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey, Jordan Baggett, Bayley Feist, Tinaya Alexander
First up, the injury report:
#NCvWAS availability report (1/2)#OneSpirit— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) April 23, 2022
Out: Aylmer (suspension), Collins (knee), Huster (achilles), McKeown (foot), Staab (Covid protocol), Vincent (calf)
Questionable: Bailey (ankle), Sullivan (calf)#NWSL #NWSLChallengeCup
Staab’s absence coming with Aylmer suspended, Vincent still trying to get over a persistent calf problem, and both Sullivan and Bailey still only questionable with knocks, puts Washington into a difficult spot. Sonnett, Rodríguez, and Brooks have all played some NWSL minutes in defensive midfield, but between a) the challenge of battling with Debinha in that space, and b) the need to prepare Rodríguez and Brooks for a summer that will very likely mean Sonnett is away for weeks is informing our guess that those two will be the center back duo, and that Sonnett will start in midfield.
However, if Sullivan or Bailey are cleared, they’d step right in, with Sonnett likely shifting into a more familiar role. Kris Ward confirmed to reporters that Roddar will be in the midfield again, while the rest of the lineup is more or less straightforward at the moment.
Projected Courage starting 11: (4222) - Katelyn Rowland; Merritt Mathias, Kaleigh Kurtz, Abby Erceg, Jaelene Daniels; Meredith Speck, Denise O’Sullivan; Debinha, Kiki Pickett; Taylor Smith, Kerolin
Sean Nahas has his team on the edge of advancing despite the absence of Casey Murphy in goal due to injury, and while rotating at least one player in his front six in every game so far. He may have to do that again here, because left back Carson Pickett is listed as questionable on the injury report:
The domino effect here if Pickett needs the game off seems likely to see Daniels move to more familiar territory as a fullback after spending the season thus far playing up front. That would open up a start for Brazil forward Kerolin, though Jorian Baucom and Rylee Baisden have both started a Challenge Cup match as well. However, Nahas could also leave Daniels up front, move Kiki Pickett to left back, and start Brianna Pinto alongside Debinha.
Referee: Eric Tattersall
Available TV: CBS...like, big CBS, the one that comes over the air
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 reaction to the Spirit’s last win includes a breakdown of what today’s result means to the team’s Challenge Cup knockout round prospects.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be taking this one in from home before leaving for D.C. United’s match tonight after the press conference, and what I have available to me is...I think iced tea? I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow. So, iced tea.
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