Spirit Clash with OL Reign in NWSL Semifinal

Washington Spirit  |   November 13, 2021
Spirit Clash with OL Reign in NWSL Semifinal Featured Image

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 7: Andi Sullivan #12 of the Washington Spirit dribbles during a game between North Carolina Courage and Washington Spirit at Audi Field on November 7, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Luke Bennett

Tacoma, WA (11/13/2021) – The Washington Spirit face OL Reign on Sunday, November 14 at 3:00 p.m. ET at Cheney Stadium. The match will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network for fans in the United States and Twitch for international viewers.  

The Spirit

The Washington Spirit enter today’s semifinal matchup after defeating the sixth-seeded North Carolina Courage in the quarterfinals of the NWSL Playoffs, 1-0. The match – which took a full, 120 minutes to complete – was an accomplishment in goalkeeping. Fifty-four shots were recorded between the two teams, yet the lone goal off the boot of Ashley Hatch was the only one to slip past either goalkeeper. Aubrey Bledsoe and the entire Spirit defense notched its third consecutive clean sheet on the way to the semifinal match. The quarterfinal match was the Spirit’s third straight playoff contest that went into extra time. 

The Spirit enter the semifinal contest as no stranger to the competition. In two head-to-head matchups against OL Reign, the Spirit earned two wins – the first a 1-0 victory in the fourth game of the season, and the second a 2-0 victory on October 16. A forfeited match on September 12 takes the season series record to 2-1-0 in favor of the Spirit. 

So, what has made the Spirit so successful against OL Reign this season? It starts with defense. Two of the Spirit’s nine clean sheets have come against OL Reign. In both instances, the backline trio of Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, and Sam Staab have proved crucial in stifling OL Reign’s attack. The same trio was responsible for many pivotal defensive plays in the quarterfinal match. Look for these three along with Bledsoe to continue to limit OL Reign’s scoring chances. The defensive point cannot be understated as this weekend’s opposition are the league leaders in goals scored (37) and assists. They are led by the runner-up for the Golden Boot, Bethany Balcer, and USWNT star, Megan Rapinoe. 

That said, the potency of the Spirit attack cannot be understated. While the Courage seemed to have successfully strategized against the trio of Hatch, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez, the plan ultimately failed. Rodman generated numerous chances, including the setup to Hatch’s game-winning goal. Also worthy of highlighting is Andi Sullivan, who connected on all but six passes in the entire 120-minute contest. 

A win today would earn the Spirit them their first trip to the NWSL Finals since 2016. If that were to happen, the Spirit would extend their unbeaten streak to over 100 days in search of the first NWSL Championship in franchise history. 

Midfielder Tori Huster will miss the match after rupturing her achilles in the last match vs. North Carolina.

The Opposition

OL Reign earned a first-round bye as the second-seeded NWSL team on the way to the semifinals. The Tacoma-based squad recorded a 13-8-3 record this season, finishing only two points behind the dominant Portland Thorns. 

This semifinal matchup is a clash of the two hottest teams in the NWSL. Outside of the mid-October defeat to the Spirit, OL Reign has been on a similar hot streak, having most recently lost on August 14 to KC NWSL. Since that loss, OL Reign has recorded three clean sheets and four games in which the team scored three goals or more. 

Coming into the match, OL Reign defeated KC NWSL, 3-0, on October 30 where Eugenie Le Sommer scored two goals in a 17-minute window. OL Reign is 8-3-1 at home this season, with two of the three losses coming at the hands of the Spirit.

As previously mentioned, the impact of Balcer and Rapinoe on the OL Reign attack is profound. That said, Dzsenifer Marozsán has been a true anchor in the middle of the field. Marozsán has created a whopping 46 chances this season (good for 7th in the NWSL), including assisting on three goals this season. Finally, attacking winger Sofia Huerta leads the league in assists with six. 

In this win-or-go-home semifinal match, look for OL Reign to be aggressive in creating chances off their first-rate offense. A win in this match would end the team’s three-game losing streak in the NWSL playoffs. 

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