Boyds, MD., (8/27/20) – With the NWSL announcing today the continuation of the 2020 season, the Washington Spirit will be back on the field starting in early September. The resumption plan will feature three regional pods containing three clubs, with each club playing a total of four games. CBS Sports is set to air games across CBS, CBS All Access and CBS Sports Network.
To minimize travel risks, the NWSL has created pods based on geographic location, with the Spirit being grouped in the Northeast pod with the Red Stars (Chicago) and Sky Blue FC (New Jersey). Spirit supporters will be familiar with both the Red Stars and Sky Blue, as Washington matched up against both teams in this summer’s 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup.
Chicago Red Stars
In the Spirit’s opening match of the Challenge Cup, the team took on the Chicago Red Stars. Over the course of the game, Washington dominated play for the first 60 minutes but allowed Chicago to score late in the game, winning 2-1 against the eventual Challenge Cup runners-up.
Of the three starting midfielders from that match, only Jordan DiBiasi will be able to suit up for the Spirit.
With Rose Lavelle’s rights recently being traded to OL Reign and Andi Sullivan still recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her left knee, the Spirit midfield will have to take on a new look. Players such as Bayley Feist, Dorian Bailey and Natalie Jacobs will look to log quality minutes in the middle of the pitch.
A familiar foe, Chicago has proven to be a tough opponent for the Spirit in recent years. Since the start of the 2018 season, the teams have matched up six times (excluding the Challenge Cup), playing three home and three away games. In those six matches, the Spirit are 1–4–1 and have surrendered nine goals while only netting four.
Forward Ashley Hatch has been crucial to breaking down a tough Chicago defense as she has recorded two goals (Challenge Cup included) against the Red Stars in her last four games. By exploiting space behind the Chicago defense with darting runs, Hatch generated three shots on goal and had one key pass against Chicago in the Challenge Cup, so look for the Spirit to get her involved in the attack.
In terms of home and away splits, the Spirit are 0–2–1 with a minus three goal differential at home. In Chicago on the other hand, the Spirit are 1–2–0 with a minus two goal differential. Even though the Spirit play a little better in Chicago, Washington will be looking to buck the trend both at home and away.
Sky Blue FC
Being placed in a pod with Sky Blue will allow the Spirit to avenge the heartbreaking penalty kick loss suffered in the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup. Back in July, the Spirit had several golden opportunities and had the overall run of play, but Sky Blue keeper Kailen Sheridan —who had seven saves — stymied any offense. In terms of the last six matches played before the Challenge Cup, however, the Spirit hold the advantage.
In those six games, the Spirit are 4–0–2, having scored eight goals to Sky Blue’s four. While the Spirit play Sky Blue tough at home, 1–0–2 record with a plus one-goal differential, Washington truly thrives in New Jersey. In away contests, the Spirit are 3–0–0 and have a plus three goal differential.
While the Spirit have found sustained success in recent years against Sky Blue, it is Hatch again who particularly flourishes. She has found the back of the net twice, and posted one shot on goal with two key passes during the Challenge Cup semis. With regards to younger players, the only other players to have scored against Sky Blue are defender Sam Staab (1) and DiBiasi (1). While Staab is an ever-present threat on set pieces, DiBiasi will look to use her speed and creativity in the midfield to break down a well-organized Sky Blue squad.