Two interim-led teams meet today in the district as the Washington Spirit hosts the Orlando Pride. Spirit have faced Pride twice in the regular season, taking a second-half lead each time only to come away with a 1-1 draw. The two teams will look different today, with Washington sacking coach Richie Burke amid abusive language allegations and Orlando – after Marc Skinner accepted the Manchester United job – undefeated (1V-2D-0L ) under the direction of interim head coach Becky Burleigh.
It’s a crucial moment for both teams. A win for the Spirit would see them leap over Orlando and several other teams in a tie for 3rd place, but another loss or draw would extend a recent winless streak to four games. The Pride, with only two points ahead but with one more game played, will want to maintain or extend the distance as the NWSL season approaches.
Key player: Ashley hatch
Fun fact: Hatch has scored a goal against Pride in each of the last five meetings between these teams, and she’s missed the fifth of five in this year’s Challenge Cup by about six inches. She was also excellent at Audi Field, scoring five times in Spirit’s seven games at Buzzard Point.
So let’s keep it simple here. If Spirit was in a video game, Hatch vs. Orlando is a bonus, and Hatch at Audi Field is a bonus. Pride has been good defensively under Burleigh, allowing just two goals in three games (despite playing Portland and going to North Carolina in that stretch), so it will take that kind of effort on the part with all the Spirit to pierce. If the goals come today, it will probably be # 33 that ends them.
Site: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kick-off time: 4:00 p.m. East
Spirit projected from the 11th: (433) – Aubrey Bledsoe; Saori Takarada, Paige Nielsen, Sam Staab, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan, Dorian Bailey; Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez
Bench: Devon Kerr, Emily Sonnett, Camryn Biegalski, Julia Roddar, Taylor Aylmer, Chinyelu Asher, Anna Heilferty, Kumi Yokoyama, Tara McKeown
With Spirit’s three Olympic medalists returning to town earlier this week and the lack of media availability ahead of the game, it is difficult to analyze what the likely lineup will be today. Our guess? Sonnett and Roddar are likely available on the bench, while Kelley O’Hara may need a week more. But that’s a guess, and with the three, it could be any result of starting out and getting dressed.
And from there, where do they even play? Takarada and Nielsen have played well, as have the Spirit midfield trio, and McGrady is no longer on the record after recovering from a pre-game blow a few weeks ago. It’s a very unclear situation, especially under interim leadership, so we’ll definitely learn something over the next couple of weeks.
Elsewhere, the injury report for the Spirit is as short as it has been all year:
#WASvORL injury report
Absent: Feist (ACL), Collins (ACL), DiBiasi (excused)
– Jason Anderson (@JasonDCsoccer) August 21, 2021
Screening of Orlando from the 11th: (4312) – Ashlyn Harris; Ali Riley, Ali Krieger, Amy Turner, Courtney Petersen; Marisa Viggiano, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir; Marta; Jodie Taylor, Sydney Leroux
Burleigh has played with three from behind in two of his three games in charge so far, but in both games Orlando faced a team that played with two forwards. Against the Chicago 4231s a few weeks ago, she went for a back four, and it looks likely she wants that plus a back one against the Spirit’s top three.
This likely means ex-Spirit midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard will come for a center-back, and we’ll likely see a lot of fluidity in the way Orlando moves without the ball. While that midfield diamond means two forwards, don’t be surprised if Leroux often starts off as if she’s the left striker in a forward three, offering breadth and giving herself more room to attack in transition.
Arbitrator: Tori Penso
TV available: CBS Sports Network
Diffusion available: Twitch (non-US viewers only)
What are you drinking?: Cold brew (judging where I’ll be from, probably Dunkin) on entering, water when I get to the stadium and a few cans of Sapporo when I get home.
It’s the perfect place for all your pre-game, in-game and post-game discussions.