The 2023 NWSL season is finally here!
Washington Spirit are kicking things off today with a home match against OL Reign. While the Spirit will be looking to start the season strong in their new full-time home stadium, they’ll face stiff competition in the Reign, who come into the season determined to nab the Championship trophy that eluded them last season.
The Spirit, who finished 11th of 12 in the 2022 season, have made a number of changes in this offseason, making it difficult to predict exactly who will start, how they’ll perform, or even what formation they’ll opt for. New Head Coach Mark Parsons has referred to a “back four” in pre-season press conferences, but with 11 midfielders and 4 forwards on the roster, it’s possible the Spirit will be looking to change up their traditional 4-3-3 formation.
After winning the 2022 NWSL Shield, OL Reign have largely kept the band together for this season but added some additional talent in the form of forward Elyse Bennett, Brazilian midfielder Luany, and former Spirit defender Emily Sonnett. While the team have won three Shields in their history, they’ve yet to win a Championship, and Reign players have been open about their focus on bringing the trophy to Seattle.
In short, the Reign will present a tough challenge for the young Spirit team, whose biggest offseason player moves were signing 7 rookies and converting 3 players to defense. The Spirit may have to rely on the excitement of playing at their new home in front of a friendly crowd and the element of surprise to win this one.
Key Player: Trinity Rodman
Coming off of a season in which she was asked to do a lot of defensive work, Rodman seems poised to flourish under Parsons’s “attack attack attack” system, in which the team will be looking to press high and win the ball further up the pitch. Rodman has the skill, speed, and mindset to perform well under such a system, and if Parsons unleashes her to concentrate on scoring this year, she could put Washington over the top today.
Watch Out For: Rose Lavelle
OL Reign is honestly stacked with talented players, but one of the most dangerous is attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle. Familiar to most fans from her success with the USWNT and former tenure at Washington, Lavelle is incredibly skilled at moving the ball past defenders and creating goal-scoring opportunities both for herself and teammates.
Challenges: The Spirit struggled defensively last season and lost some important members of the defensive squad, including Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, and Julia Roddar, over the offseason. The biggest question for the opening match is whether they’ve done enough to rebuild defensive depth to withstand the attacking might of a team that includes Lavelle, Jess Fishlock, and Bethany Balcer, to name just a few.
Previously: Washington and OL Reign have not faced each other since early in the 2022 season. The Spirit defeated the Reign 2-1 in their home opener at Audi Field on May 1, while their May 22 face-off in Seattle ended in a scoreless draw.
OL Reign Availability:
Out: Angelina (SEI – knee), Phoebe McClernon (back), Megan Rapinoe (calf)
Questionable: Quinn (lower upper body)
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee), Tori Huster (SEI – lower leg)
Location: Audi Field
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. ET
Referee: Alyssa Nichols
Available streaming: Paramount+