(Image courtesy of Washington Spirit twitter)
The Washington Spirit will return to Audi Field this weekend with some work to do.
Saturday night’s opponent, the North Carolina Courage, shut out the Orlando Pride last weekend to snatch their place at the top of the table with 16 points. The Courage, led by coach Paul Riley, have won four of their last five matches and have not lost a match since June 5. Their attacking style of play has given the rest of the league fits, and they have not conceded a goal in any of their three previous matches.
“They’re going to come and press,” said Spirit coach Richie Burke. “They know only one way to play, on the front foot. So we’re going to have to be very switched on and deal with it.”
Washington, who have mostly enjoyed a strong start to the season, had their five-game unbeaten streak snapped by the Chicago Red Stars last weekend, which saw them slip to sixth in the table. The Red Stars frustrated en route to a 1-0 win, though the scoreline should have been worse according to Burke; a long-range shot from Chicago’s Kealia Watt appeared to have crossed the goal line after deflecting off the crossbar, but the referees did not award the Red Stars the goal which would have doubled their lead.
While Burke said the Spirit struggled to handle Chicago’s conservative, “bunkered in” approach, the challenge presented by the Courage this weekend is an entirely different animal.
“[Chicago] executed their game plan very well, and we struggled to sort of proactively break them down,” said Burke. “This game against North Carolina, they’re not disrespectful, but they don’t respect anybody enough to bunker in against them. I’ve never seen them actually go into a shell and defend … It’ll be a completely different challenge for us.”
The Courage will be without star forward Lynn Williams, who has been officially added to the US Women’s National Team’s expanded 22-player roster for the upcoming Olympics. Other stars absent for North Carolina include midfielder Sam Mewis (US), defender Abby Erceg (New Zealand), and winger Debinha (Brazil). Washington will be without defenders Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara, who will be representing the United States. Midfielder Julia Roddar has been named an alternate for her native Sweden.
Luckily for Washington, stand-out rookie forward Trinity Rodman has recovered from the back spasms that forced her to be replaced by Tara McKeown in the 56th minute last week. Rodman, who has dealt with such back issues throughout the season, did not appear on the team’s injury report and will be available for Saturday’s match.
“It was a back spasm and I thought they treated it brilliantly,” said Burke, crediting the team’s doctors. “So she trained full today. I don’t think she’s going to play 90 minutes, that’s for sure. But she will certainly play in the game tomorrow, and we’ll see what we get out of her.”
In other team news, the Spirit announced the departure of defender Natalie Jacobs, who was placed on waivers at the player’s request. The club’s 13th overall 2020 draft pick has logged in 167 minutes over four matches this season.
“That was something Nat Jacobs wanted, and she’s a great kid. She wanted to play more [and] didn’t think she was going to get playing time at our organization, so she wanted to go and play and reinvent herself somewhere else. As an organization we don’t want to be in the mood of killing players’ careers, so we let her go.”