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Washington, D.C. (10/14/2023) – The Washington Spirit will face the North Carolina Courage in the final match of the 2023 NWSL regular season. The match kicks off at 5:00 p.m. EDT at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. and will broadcast on Paramount+ for fans across the United States. International viewers will be able to watch on NWSLSoccer.com.
For the Washington Spirit, the mission heading into this weekend’s match versus the North Carolina Courage is simple: Win. With a victory, the Spirit is guaranteed a top-four seed and will host a playoff match next weekend. Should the Spirit draw or lose, things get hairy.
Looking backward, the Washington Spirit enters the match off a scoreless draw versus OL Reign. Despite leaving Seattle without three points, the Spirit performed mightily.
In front of an NWSL record-setting crowd of over 34,000 and on OL Reign and USWNT legend Megan Rapinoe’s final home match, forward Trinity Rodman tied a career high with eight shots. Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury thwarted several Reign strikes to log her 30th career regular season clean sheet, becoming only the sixth player in league history to accomplish this feat. Additionally, forward Ashley Hatch surpassed her 10,000th career regular season minute played in the match. The draw helped the Spirit remain undefeated in nationally televised matches (2-0-1) dating back to 2022. In that time, the Spirit has outscored opponents 7 to 4.
With 30 points and only five losses, the Spirit has the third-most points and the fewest losses in team history through 21 matches. Head Coach Mark Parsons is responsible for three of the Spirit’s best four performances to this point in a season in team history (2014, 2015, 2023). Parsons, however, will not be on the Spirit sideline this weekend after receiving his third yellow card of the regular season in last week’s match. Defender Tara McKeown also received her fifth yellow card of the regular season, barring her from playing in Sunday’s match due to accumulation.
The last meeting between the two sides was not one to remember for the Spirit. The Challenge Cup match in July came off the departure of seven World Cup call-ups for the Spirit. Shorthanded, the Spirit played over 60 minutes in solid form, however, from the 61st minute to the 83rd minute, the Courage poured on six goals. It represented the most goals scored in one half and the largest margin of defeat in Spirit history.
The last regular season meeting between the Courage and Spirit came all the way back in April — the third match of the season. The Spirit were victorious, 2-1, in Cary off goals from Rodman and Hatch, marking only the second all-time victory for the Spirit at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Other aspects to look out for this weekend would be set pieces for the Spirit. Set pieces have been a calling card for the Spirit this season as no one has created more chances from dead balls. The team’s 9.5 expected goal tally on set pieces and +4 expected goal differential on set pieces leads the league. Look for set piece specialist Sam Staab to create scoring chances on Sunday with her strong left foot.
Coming off of Kingsbury’s 30th clean sheet, the Spirit will want to limit Courage chances. Recently, the Spirit has struggled to keep teams out of the net, conceding at least once in each of their last eight regular season home games. The only longer such streak in a single season for Washington was when the team allowed a goal in all 12 of its home matches in 2014.
Also, watch out for some of the following milestones that Spirit players could reach this game: the next regular season goal for Hatch will make her the fifth player to score 40 goals for a single club in NWSL history, while the next assist for Rodman will tie her with Crystal Dunn & Diana Matheson for the club record (11).
Should the Spirit qualify to host a home playoff match, stay tuned on Washington Spirit social channels and WashingtonSpirit.com for more information on ticket information.
Last week, the Courage played to a scoreless draw at home against second place San Diego Wave FC in front of a club record-setting crowd of over 10,000. The scoreless draw marked the ninth clean sheet in the regular season for the Courage. Denise O’Sullivan became the club record holder for all-time regular season minutes played, surpassing 9,393 minutes.
The scoreless draw with Wave FC means the Courage has now drawn four of its last five matches, with only Louisville also having four draws in a span of five league games this season. It is the first time in team history that North Carolina has played in four draws in a five-match span in league play.
The Courage sits in what would seem like a favorable position with only one match left in the season. At 8-7-6, the Courage is in third place on the NWSL table, but tied with NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Spirit on points (30). Thus, the conditions are the same for the Courage: Win and host a playoff game — lose or tie, and things get tricky. The Courage is aided by a +6 goal differential (currently third-best in the NWSL) should any tiebreakers become necessary.
The dichotomy between the Courage and the Spirit is stark. While the Spirit is a vertically pressing, high-intensity squad, the Courage prefer to play horizontally, possessing the ball. The Courage holds the league-low 1.39 direct speed. This means the Courage moves the ball toward the opponent’s goal at the slowest rate in the NWSL. Additionally, in contrast to the Spirit’s success with set pieces this season, the Courage has created the fewest chances on set pieces (2.78 xG) in the league, while scoring the fewest set piece goals (1).
It’s no secret the Courage is patient. The team ranks first in the NWSL in possession (53.4%) and sequences of 10+ passes at 251. The next closest team has 123 pass sequences of 10 or more.
Courage keeper Casey Murphy has been a definite x-factor for the team’s defensive success this season. In all competitions this season, Murphy has 10 clean sheets, tied with Katie Lund and Jane Campbell for most among NWSL goalkeepers. It is Murphy’s second time having 10+ shutouts in a single season (also 2021) as she joins Nicole Barnhart (three times) as the only goalkeepers with multiple such seasons..