Photo Credit: Tony Quinn/ISI Photos
BOYDS, Md. (Sept 23, 2016) – The Washington Spirit (12-4-3, 39 pts) will take on the Chicago Red Stars (8-5-6, 30 pts) at Toyota Park in suburban Chicago Saturday, September 24 at 8 p.m. The Spirit could clinch the NWSL Shield – awarded to the team with the best regular season record – with a win, while any other result would delay matters until the conclusion of Sunday’s game between 2nd place Portland Thorns and regional Spirit rival Sky Blue FC of New Jersey.
The Thorns trail the Spirit by just one point, and also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker advantage, so the Spirit would need the Thorns to lose if they also lose, or to lose or draw if they draw at Chicago. Regardless of the Shield race, both teams will host first round semifinal matches next weekend, with the Spirit scheduled to welcome one of three potential teams Friday, September 30, at 8 p.m. in the friendly confines of the Maryland SoccerPlex (tickets.washingtonspirit.com)
The last time the Spirit played the Chicago Red Stars on July 9, the league-leaders came away with a 2-0 victory at the Maryland SoccerPlex with goals from forwards Estefania Banini and Katie Stengel.
“There is a lot riding on this last regular season match, and it will be good preparation for the playoffs against a very good playoff team in Chicago,” said Spirit general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “We look forward to bouncing back after a tough result in Seattle and a week off.”
Despite the loss of dynamic rookie Cali Farquharson with a torn ACL and Banini who is on her way back from a knee injury, the Spirit has plenty of weapons to get on the score sheet following a rare goaless effort at Seattle on September 11. Stengel, Crystal Dunn, and Cheyna Williams offer an attacking trio any team in the league would want, while Gabarra could also slot Diana Matheson or Alyssa Kleiner up top.
Dunn, the 2015 NWSL Golden Boot winner, notched her first goal of the season two matches ago, but has been a lively offensive presence all season. Williams has found her stride recently, scoring her three goals this season within the last seven matches. Stengel knows what it’s like to score against Chicago and has been involved in many of the Spirit’s best attacking moves of the season.
Chicago Red Stars comes into this game winless in its last three matches, but still safely in the playoff top-4. They lean heavily on forward Christen Press who, despite missing games for the Olympics, sits in sixth place in the league and leads the Red Stars with seven goals from a prolific 37 total shots on-frame. Not to be overlooked is Sofia Huerta who has six goals to her name this season for the home side.
The match will be streamed live on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1tYOvzxBD0
The Spirit will return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Friday, September 30 at 8 p.m. for an NWSL semifinal which will be first home playoff match in franchise history. The opponent is yet to be determined but could be Chicago Red Stars, Western New York Flash, or Seattle Reign FC. For tickets, fans can visit tickets.washingtonspirit.com.