The Washington Spirit will be looking for their first NWSL Challenge Cup win of 2022 today at Audi Field, where they host the Orlando Pride. After creating numerous chances but only coming away with a draw in the first meeting of the year between the sides, Washington was frustrated with both the result and the physical nature of the Pride’s play. They’ll be looking for a bit of revenge as a result, and realistically they probably have to win this game to maintain serious hope of advancing to the Challenge Cup semifinals.
Key player: Ashley Hatch
Let’s not over-think this one. Hatch’s track record on Buzzard Point is incredible, with nine goals in 12 career games there. And then, on top of that, Hatch has scored five goals the Spirit’s last six games against Orlando.
So obviously there’s an easy bet here, and that bet is on Hatch to score against Orlando today at Audi Field, the place and opponent she’s historically been her best at. But it’s worth watching how many good chances the Spirit can generate for Hatch, rather than having to settle for shots from 20 or so yards (which Washington has been doing too much for their own good so far this year).
There’s also the physicality factor, as the Pride drew the Spirit’s ire for multiple hard challenges from behind on Hatch down in Orlando. Washington needs her healthy long-term, and that means finding ways to involve her in this game while also helping her avoid some of the crunching tackles a forward tends to absorb facing a team that goes in as hard as the Pride do.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 4:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (433) - Aubrey Kingsbury; Kelley O’Hara, Amber Brooks, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar; Taylor Aylmer, Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez; Anna Heilferty, Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman
Bench: Devon Kerr, Nicole Barnhart, Karina Rodríguez, Camryn Biegalski, Morgan Goff, Gaby Vincent, Jordan Baggett, Tinaya Alexander
First up, here’s the injury report:
#WASvORL availability report#OneSpirit— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) April 3, 2022
Out: Bailey (leg), Collins (ACL), Feist (ACL), Huster (achilles), Martin (hip), McKeown (foot), Sonnett (abdomen)#Adastra
Out: Cosme, McLeod (knee), Marta (ACL), Villacorta (ACL)
Questionable: Leroux (leg)#NWSL
The Spirit outplayed Orlando in a 433, so we’re guessing they go back to it, but the 4231 they’ve played in their last two games could be retained. The list of players out with injury is pretty long, so significant rotation isn’t really an option. Kris Ward told reporters that the group has come through the grind of three games in nine days well, so outside of possibly starting Biegalski and Vincent, there aren’t too many question marks here.
One thing to watch out for: Aylmer, Biegalski, Heilferty, Rodman, Staab, and Sullivan would all be suspended for the trip to North Carolina in a couple of weeks if they pick up a yellow card today.
Projected Orlando starting 11: (4231) - Anna Moorhouse; Carrie Lawrence, Amy Turner, Megan Montefusco, Courtney Petersen; Angharad James, Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir; Darian Jenkins, Mikayla Cluff, Erika Tymrak; Leah Pruitt
Amanda Cromwell has mostly preferred a midfield diamond so far, but played a 4231 against Washington in their first meeting, and switched back to it at halftime mid-week against Gotham. As such, and because Sydney Leroux is questionable, it seems safe to expect that shift again today.
If Leroux can’t go today, she’ll join a growing list of Pride starters out today. Marta has a torn ACL, while goalkeeper Erin McLeod is out with a knee injury. Right back Kylie Strom, meanwhile, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. It is possible that Celia could come in at right back after a delayed arrival, while Meggie Dougherty Howard, Parker Roberts, and Abi Kim could all factor in as well.
Referee: Sergii Demianchuk
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?: Looking like another cold brew en route/water in the press box kind of day, but an Americano could sneak in at the last moment on my drive in.
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