The Washington Spirit host OL Reign today as two of the NWSL’s very best teams kick off their regular season campaigns. For the Spirit, it’s a big day: players will get their 2021 championship rings, and the team has put in a ton of work to celebrate last year’s incredible accomplishment. However, before all that kicks off, Washington faces a team that most pundits see as their biggest challengers for this year’s crown, and the Reign will certainly want to spoil the party after the Spirit ended their playoff hopes last year.
Key player: Ashley Sanchez
So thinking about that playoff game last year, it was settled by some tremendous work in goal by Aubrey Kingsbury, and by a moment of utter genius from Sanchez, turning possession from no angle on the touchline and a crowd of Reign defenders around her into one of the all-time great NWSL goals.
Since then, Sanchez has taken the next step in her game, going from a matchwinner who sometimes disappears to arguably the Challenge Cup MVP (I vote on this, and I think it’s a slam dunk) and pushing for a long-term place on the USWNT. On a day where the Spirit look like they’ll be unable to call on some key players for the full 90, or even at all, Sanchez is vital for two reasons: first, she has to continue the dominant play to help lead the team against a top-tier opponent.
Secondly, thinking of this grueling week the league has set up for its teams as a “gift” for succeeding, Sanchez’s ability to make the game easy for others will be crucial. That means setting up easier chances, of course, but it also means potentially breaking this game open early and allowing the Spirit to conserve some energy with a lead, rather than having to chase a result.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 5:00pm Eastern
Projected Spirit starting 11: (4231) - Aubrey Kingsbury; Camryn Biegalski, Emily Sonnett, Sam Staab, Julia Roddar; Karina Rodríguez, Taylor Aylmer; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Anna Heilferty; Ashley Hatch
Bench: Devon Kerr, Nicole Barnhart, Amber Brooks, Kelley O’Hara, Morgan Goff, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey, Bayley Feist, Tinaya Alexander
Here’s the availability report for both teams:
#WASvRGN availability:#OneSpirit— Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) May 1, 2022
Out: Collins (knee), Huster (achilles), Martin (ankle), McKeown (calf), Vincent (calf)
?-able: Baggett (calf), O’Hara (hamstring), Sullivan (calf)#BoldTogether
Out: Kajan (covid protocol), Rapinoe (calf), van der Jagt (covid protocol)#NWSL
This one’s tough to call, because the questionables are truly questionable. Kris Ward said O’Hara is a true maybe after leaving the draw in North Carolina with hamstring tightness. Sullivan is in roughly the same boat, while Jordan Baggett’s injury is new. We expect Baggett to possibly be held out entirely, as the team has been cautious building her back up from a long-term hip injury.
However, this is also progress. Ward said Bailey “will play” to some extent, while Staab is out of Covid-19 protocol and should reunite with Sonnett at center back. That is, unless a plan Ward said they considered last week — Sonnett in midfield and Rodríguez at center back — ends up getting a shot today.
Projected Reign starting 11: (4231) - Phallon Tullis-Joyce; Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Sam Hiatt, Lauren Barnes; Quinn, Jess Fishlock; Ally Watt, Rose Lavelle, Veronica Latsko; Bethany Balcer
Laura Harvey hasn’t had Megan Rapinoe available this year, so the only player she’ll have to plan on doing without that has been in the mix for starts in 2022 is Olivia van der Jagt. That removes one mystery from their starting lineup, as the Reign have rotated their front four around quite a bit, including players playing major minutes in multiple roles. Latsko has played on both wings, Balcer has been the 10 with Watt up front, and so on.
The other question here is simply about what competition the Reign value the most. If they’re all-in on the Challenge Cup, then they may hold this lineup out for Wednesday instead. Players like Nikki Stanton (probably for Quinn), Angelina (really anywhere in the front four) would cycle in, while we could see Sinclaire Miramontez and Jimena López step into the fullback positions as well.
Referee: Alexandra Billeter
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?: I’ll be in the press box for this one, so I’m really hoping our seltzer days up there continue. The customary large cold brew on my drive in is also a distinct possibility.
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