For once in the still-young NWSL season, the Washington Spirit will head into this weekend’s match—a Saturday night road game in Kansas City—as the well-rested side.
While Washington has dealt with their fair share of short weeks and last-minute issues, this time they enter Kansas City with a full week in between their two league matches. Kansas City, like many NWSL teams this week, will have played three games over seven days after starting the week with a loss to Portland Sunday and a Wednesday loss to league leaders Orlando. The expansion side, which refers to itself as KC NWSL before establishing a permanent brand identity for next season, is in poor form, with four consecutive losses tumbling the side to last in the league table with just two points on the season out of a possible 21.
Meanwhile, Washington have overachieved expectations somewhat with their young core, taking points in all four of their last matches and currently sitting fourth. A win Saturday could give them a share of second place if certain results around the league go their way. Despite the disparity in prep time and respective table positions for the two teams, Washington coach Richie Burke is expecting Huw Williams’ squad to put up a fight.
“I’m sure he’s going to be conservative and compact and making sure that there’s limited space for us to do the things that we do well,” Burke said of Kansas City’s gaffer. “So it’s gonna be a challenge, but they’re all challenges because there’s no easy matches, as you look around this league now, there’s not an easy place to play.”
For Washington, the extra rest came at an important time, as the Spirit endured some injury issues resulting from their last match, a 1-1 draw with Chicago Red Stars Sunday. Today is the last day of mandated concussion absence for forward Ashley Hatch, who was substituted out in the 35th minute after suffering a head injury in the Chicago game.
“We’ve been banged up a little bit this week,” said Burke. “We’re still in recovery mode. We’re flying out [Friday], we’ll reassess when we get to Kansas City [for] our training sessions. Hoping everybody’s had a full recovery by the time we’re training and going through our shape and build-up session.”
The Spirit also have to contend with another challenge, that of the pitch dimensions at Kansas City’s Legends Field. Like Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium, which Washington have dealt with already this season, Saturday’s host venue is baseball stadium which is temporarily converted into a soccer pitch for match days. The result is a narrower playing surface than most other NWSL venues.
“We prefer to play on bigger surfaces because we can move teams around a little bit,” said Burke. “Teams that can defend in compact lines create problems for us and we don’t get Ashley Sanchez on the ball, free runners as much as we like to. Trinity Rodman and Hatchy don’t have the space to run in behind as much as we like to. And teams can get lucky bounces here and they can get lucky when the game’s close and tight like that.”
While the squads have their own separate sets of challenges to overcome ahead of the Saturday evening clash, Burke is keen to maintain his side’s DNA in terms of mentality and style of play, and not let the outside factors like venue or opposing tactics interfere with the team’s plans.
“We have to keep doing us, we have to keep playing our way. We have to keep doing the things that we’re good at and that make us the team that we are.”
Washington and Kansas City will square off at 8:30 pm on Saturday, June 26. The match will be broadcast on the league’s Twitch channel.
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