Spirit Travel to Houston Looking to Regain Top Form

Washington Spirit  |   August 13, 2021
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HOUSTON, TX – MAY 26: Aubrey Bledsoe #1 of the Washington Spirit clears the ball from her side of the field during a game between Washington Spirit and Houston Dash at BBVA Stadium on May 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Luke Bennett

Leesburg, VA., (08/13/2021) – The Washington Spirit face the Houston Dash tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET at BBVA Stadium. The match will be broadcast on Twitch for fans in the United States and international viewers. 

This evening’s match will be the second meeting between the two clubs this season.  

The Opposition

The Houston Dash have not been hot as of late. In the last five matches, the Dash have won only once – most recently, Houston was routed 5-1 by OL Reign. Accordingly, Houston sits in eighth place in the NWSL standings with 17 points, just outside of playoff eligibility. 

That said, Houston is certainly not a team to overlook. Every week, the NWSL proves why it is one of – if not the – most competitive league in the world. Only four points separate the eighth-placed Dash and second-place North Carolina Courage. More importantly, only a single point separates the Dash and Spirit. 

The Dash also happen to be the reigning 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup champions, and despite having never made a NWSL Playoffs, have proven to be a competitive team in the last year. They are competing in this year’s Women’s International Champions Cup which includes the Portland Thorns, Barcelona, and Olympique Lyonnais. 

Houston coach James Clarkson and the Dash have hung their hats on physicality and defense this season. Expect tonight’s match to be no different, challenging the Spirit’s intensity and execution.  The defense is anchored by Katie Naughton, who was named to the NWSL Team of the Month for July and has carried good form into this month as well. Finally, Houston has earned this physical – often chippy – identity, leading the league with a whopping 27 yellow cards. Dash player’s Shea Groom and Hayley Hanson also lead the league in individual yellow cards with four apiece. 

The Spirit

The Spirit are on a two-game losing skid, and have lost four of its last six matches. Losing comes at a high price in this league, ousting the Spirit from a point outside of first-place in the NWSL standings to the bottom four. With a 5-5-3 record, the Spirit are seventh, just one place off of playoff contention. However, the Spirit have picked up points in all but two of their away matches this season, often faring quite well on the road. Washington will look to use that good record to get back into form.

Friday’s match also marks the ninth match without USWNT Olympic bronze medalists Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett and Julia Roddar, silver medalist with Sweden. To this end, look for the lineup to remain very similar against Houston. Saori Takarada, another Spirit player who competed in the 2020 Olympics, was the first to return from international duty and did not need much time to knock off any rust. Takarada had her fingerprints all over the match, locking down defensively and eliminating scoring chances for the Thorns while creating scoring opportunities of her own. 

Finally, it goes without saying that the Spirit’s attacking front is liable to strike at any moment. Ashley Sanchez now leads the NWSL in both shots (32) and shots on goals (20). For several weeks running, Trinity Rodman remains in the top-five in the same categories with 29 shots and 16 shots on target. Both are explosive offensive playmakers that can exploit almost any hole in a defense. And despite little production in the last few games, Ashley Hatch remains the co-league-leader with six goals. The Spirit have scored only one goal in its two-game losing streak. Look for the Spirit to snap the streak off of a hot performance offensively.

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