Saturday is shaping up to be a big match for Reign FC. The club heads east to take on the Washington Spirit at Audi Field, home of D.C. United. It’s the Spirit’s second match at the stadium this season, and they managed to attract more than 19,000 fans to the game.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 4:30 PM PT and will stream on Yahoo! Sports.
The location is not the only reason this match is a big one for the club. The Spirit sit just behind the Reign in 6th place, making this a must-win match for both sides.
The Reign were able to give minutes to Megan Rapinoe last weekend and she’ll look to build on that appearance with additional time against the Spirit. Meanwhile, a relatively healthy Washington squad will be without Rose Lavelle, who is still in concussion protocol after taking a hard hit weeks ago against the Portland Thorns. Mallory Pugh, however, should be available for the Spirit after recovering from a hip injury.
The two sides have met twice this season, with both matches ending in a draw. The first was a 0-0 draw in Maryland while the second was a 1-1 battle at Cheney Stadium in June — where the Reign were the better team in the first half, but couldn’t find a second goal.
What to Watch
Building from the back: Despite playing 3 matches fewer than some teams, the Washington Spirit are second in the league in passes completed and first in pass accuracy (79%). This is a team that holds onto the ball and looks to slowly pull teams out of position and find gaps. A lot of their possession is driven by centerbacks Paige Nielsen and Sam Staab, who are first and second in the league in touches per 90 minutes. The Reign have actually completed more passes in the opposition’s half than the Spirit — a sign of just how much the Spirit use their backline to keep possession.
Both centerbacks are calm on the ball and good passers — with 83% and 84% pass completion — but teams have managed to put the Spirit on their heels with high pressure on the backline. The Reign seemed to shake Washington in the opening 30 minutes of their last match, but couldn’t punish them with more than one goal. The Spirit will likely expect the Reign to press early, but it won’t hurt the Reign to try to repeat their success from last weekend against the Pride.
Rest for the Spirit: It’s been 3 weeks since the Spirit played a match, as they had a bye last week, the international break came the week prior, and their game at Orlando was postponed due to Hurricane Dorian’s arrival. Will the Spirit be well rested? Or will they come out with a lack of cohesion due to the extended break?
Formation: The Spirit line up in either a 4-4-2 box midfield or more of a traditional 4-3-3 formation — depending on personnel. I suspect they’ll revert to a 4-3-3 if Mallory Pugh starts the game, with her lining up on the wing. Their midfielders cover a lot of ground, but the formation could leave the Reign with some space in the midfield to take advantage of — whether via smart runs from the outside backs, or when Megan Rapinoe enters the match and sneaks into empty space.
Andi Sullivan: Sullivan plays as one of the Spirit’s deeper-lying midfielders, but she’s at her best when she is more of a box-to-box than a holding midfielder. Sullivan has stepped up as a leader for this young Spirit squad. She’s not one to score a lot of goals, although she has a strong shot from distance. But Sullivan is the player the team looks at to help manage the pace and flow of the game.
Ashley Hatch: Hatch has had an up-and-down season, but she continues to work hard as the central striker to get herself in goal-scoring positions. She’s a good hold-up player, has speed and strength, and can strike the ball well on the dribble. The Reign will need to stay tight on her in the box and not let her turn quickly.
Whoever starts at left back: The rotating cast of players that have stepped in at left back for the Spirit including former Reign player Elise Kellond-Knight, Dorian Bailey, and Tegan McGrady. Unfortunately, all three have been dealing with injuries. EKK is the only one not listed on the injury report, but a start for her seems unlikely. Australian Amy Harrison, who has also played there a few times for the Spirit, is the probable candidate. Whoever is there will likely have to deal with Bethany Balcer, who has proven to be a ruthless defender that helps the Reign win the ball back quickly.
Absences: Injury, international duty and suspension
OUT: Jasmyne Spencer (SEI - left knee), Taylor Smith (SEI - Right Knee), Michelle Betos (SEI - Right Achilles), Jaycie Johnson (SEI - Right Knee), Scout Watson (SEI - Concussion), Jessica Fishlock (SEI - Left Knee), Lydia Williams (45D - Left Ankle), Shea Groom (Rib)
SUSPENSION: Lauren Barnes (Yellow card accumulation)
OUT: Mallory Eubanks (MAT), Tegan McGrady (Left Thigh), Rose Lavelle (General Head), Dorian Bailey (Left Ankle)
By the Numbers
8-5-6, 30 points, 5th place | 19 goals for, 21 goals against
- Last 5: W, L, T, L, W
- Shots: 212 | On target: 83
- Bethany Balcer: 3 goals, 2 assists
- Casey Murphy: 50 saves, 15 goals against, 5 clean sheets
7-7-4, 25 points, 6th place | 22 goals for, 19 goals against
- Last 5: W, T, L, L, L
- Shots: 176 | On target: 74
- Ashley Hatch: 5 goals, 1 assist
- Aubrey Bledsoe: 64 saves, 19 goals against, 7 clean sheets
Predicted Starting Lineups
If we had to guess, here is who I suspect will start for both teams:
Washington Spirit: Aubrey Bledsoe; Amy Harrison, Sam Staab, Paige Neilsen, Tori Huster; Meggie Dougherty Howard, Andi Sullivan, Jordan DiBiasi; Crystal Thomas, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh