By Owen Krucoff
Boyds, Md., (8/8/19) – The Washington Spirit are back at the Maryland SoccerPlex this weekend as the Chicago Red Stars come to town for a critical NWSL matchup. The Spirit are looking to keep pace in the playoff hunt, and can move to within two points of the third-place Red Stars with a victory on Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET at Maureen Hendricks Field. Fans can also view the match on NBC Sports Washington and Monumental Sports Network. [TICKETS]
The Red Stars are currently third in the NWSL with an 8-5-2 record. They enter this weekend on a league-best four-game win streak that includes three clean sheet victories. The Spirit notched a win in the clubs’ first meeting this season, a 2-0 result at SeatGeek Stadium on May 26.
Chicago features one of the strongest attacks in the league, led by forward Sam Kerr. The Australian star leads the NWSL Golden Boot race with 12 goals despite missing three games for World Cup duty. The Red Stars as a whole rank second in the league in shots (178) and shots on goal (86), as well as third in goals (26).
Bolstering the Chicago roster are two stars from the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup squad, midfielder Julie Ertz and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Both have registered two full 90-minute appearances since returning from France, with Naeher picking up her second clean sheet of the season in a 4-0 win at Reign FC on July 28.
Saturday’s match is the front end of a two-game east coast swing for the Red Stars, who will travel to New Jersey for a matchup with Sky Blue FC on August 14. Chicago is 4-2-1 away from home this season.
Washington did well to earn a victory at Chicago in May, with an own goal and an Ashley Hatch strike making the difference in a 2-0 final. Sam Kerr, however, was notably absent that day, and her presence this weekend presents a challenge for the stout Washington defense.
Standout goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and the back line have kept six clean sheets this season, the second-most in the league, and May’s shutout against the Red Stars was arguably the most impressive of the bunch.
Bledsoe exploded for seven saves while defender Paige Nielsen earned the NWSL Save of the Week award with a magnificent goal-line clearance.
OFF. THE. LINE. #CHIvWAS // #SpiritFam pic.twitter.com/HIJZ4tZAgJ
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) May 26, 2019
The defense will have its work cut out this Saturday, but should be able to limit Chicago’s chances if it can keep up the consistent performances it has shown all season.
Washington’s group of three Australian internationals, including the defensive-minded Elise Kellond-Knight and Amy Harrison, could provide the insight and experience needed to take on Kerr.
With a victory, the Spirit would secure a season series victory over Chicago for the first time since 2015. U.S. national team stars Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh are expected to make their second and third appearances, respectively, since returning from World Cup duty.
Kickoff against the Red Stars is set for 7:00 p.m. ET with Gate D & the Fan Zone opening at 5:30 p.m. ET for all ticket-holding fans and Gate A opening at 6:00 p.m.
Fans who can’t make it to the SoccerPlex can watch the game on NBC Sports Washington and stream the game on Monumental Sports and Yahoo Sports.