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Five things to know about the Washington Spirit

OL Reign kick off the NWSL season on March 26. Get to know their opponent.

NWSL: OL Reign at Washington Spirit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, March 26, OL Reign kicks off their 2023 NWSL season with a road match against the Washington Spirit. The game kicks off at 1 PM PT and will broadcast locally on FOX 13+ and will stream on Paramount+ for fans in the U.S. and on the NWSL website for international viewers.

After beating OL Reign in a controversial fashion to earn a trip to the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup final — hello handball at the end of regulation — the Washington Spirit’s regular season was riddled with scheduling challenges, injuries, and struggling performances. As a result, the Spirit finished the 2022 regular season with 19 points, the second-fewest in the league.

The team is ready to put some of their former coaching and ownership controversies behind them, and have brought in a number of new staff members and players to try to do that. Here are five things to know about the Washington Spirit ahead of Sunday’s match.

New/old/returning coach

After two Washington Spirit coaches were dismissed for abuse in 2021 and 2022, the Spirit brought a familiar face back to lead the team in 2023. Mark Parsons, who coached the team from 2013-2015, returns to D.C. after a stint as the Netherlands women’s manager. Parsons also had a successful run as the head coach of the Portland Thorns for four seasons, earning the NWSL Shield in 2016 and 2021, and winning the NWSL championship in 2017.

Parsons is a well-known manager who builds a strong team culture, and his players have commented on how nice it’s been this preseason to just focus on soccer again after two years of chaos. He and OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey know each other well, and neither coach wants to lose to their friend. It’s always a tactical battle between their two sides.

Lots of new players

Washington will kick off its 2023 campaign with 17 returning players and nine new players. Canadian defender Gabrielle Carle and French midfielder Inès Jaurena signed with the Spirit after playing in Europe. The Spirit also signed 15-year-old Chloe Ricketts, who until this week was the youngest player in the league, and five draft picks: goalkeeper Lyza Bosselmann, midfielders Nicole Douglas and Riley Tanner, and forwards Civana Kuhlmann and Lena Silano. That’s a lot of new players to integrate. The good news for Washington is that much of their core is back, which means Parsons can use these new players as depth and work them into the season.

Defensive questions

In 2022, due to injuries, mental fatigue, and a lack of tactical adjustments, the Spirit struggled defensively. They gave up 33 goals in 22 matches. In the offseason, Washington lost one of their best defenders, Emily Sonnett, in a trade with OL Reign, and presumed starting fullback Anna Heilferty suffered an ACL tear in the preseason. That leaves a lot of questions about their backline.

Sam Staab is a lock as a starting centerback and is truly one of the most underrated defenders in the league. Her passing and athleticism would put Staab in any team’s starting lineup. NWSL veteran Amber Brooks could fill in alongside Staab, but Parsons has also been having forward Tara McKeown train at centerback, which is a huge surprise.

As for the rest of the positions on the backline? Parsons has noted that he sees Dorian Bailey and Maddie Elwell as fullbacks. Bailey was a box-to-box midfielder for the Spirit who is incredibly strong in possession. Elwell played primarily at forward, but Parsons believes that “she has all the qualities” to be a good left back. Camryn Biegalski, who joined the Spirit in 2021, is another reliable option at fullback.

The good news for what could be a newly formed backline? They have a strong midfield in front of them, led by holding midfielder Andi Sullivan.

An attack-minded approach

While it’s hard to predict exactly how the Washington Spirit will play under Parsons in 2023, as the Spirit haven’t played any public preseason games, there’s one thing we can be sure of: Washington will play with high energy and will be extremely attack-minded.

Last year, the Spirit were second to last in the league in the number of high turnovers they won in their attacking third. Where OL Reign won 318 high turnovers, Washington only won 214. They were second in the league, however, in the number of goals they scored from high turnovers, at five (tied with the Reign).

Fans can expect their defensive pressure to change under Parsons, which leads directly to how they attack. If they can win the ball more often in higher positions, they’ll certainly have a chance to lead the league in goals scored off high turnovers.

As The District Press notes, Parsons has indicated that while he loves how much Trinity Rodman drops back to win the ball defensively, he’d like her to be higher up the field so the team can catch her in transition. From there, she can either go toward goal herself or find Ashley Hatch in the middle. And expect Ashley Sanchez to be the playmaker on the squad, always looking to receive the ball and dribble at and around Reign players.

Trinity Rodman = good

Rodman, at just 20 years old, is one of the most talented players in the league. While she didn’t have the best offensive stats in 2022, scoring just four goals and notching two assists, Rodman was second in the league last year in expected assists per 90 minutes.

As American Soccer Analysis points out in the chart below, she stands above other wingers in almost every attacking stat. She led the league in carries that led to a key pass and was second in carries that ended in an assist.

Via American Soccer Analysis

It feels like every year, Rodman adds another tool to her tool belt. She’s become a much better playmaker with the Spirit and the U.S. women’s national team in the last year (check out that assist in the below clip). That’s on top of her disruptive defensive pressure, speed, and goal-scoring acumen. Rodman is the whole package and will give OL Reign a challenge on Sunday.

OL Reign kicks off against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, March 26, at 1 PM PT. The game will air on FOX 13+ locally and will stream on Paramount+ (US) and (International).

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