Washington Spirit remain unbeaten in the first four games of the 2023 NWSL season after a scoreless draw with Houston Dash at home on Saturday night. A lack of goals doesn’t mean Annie and André don’t have anything to say about this game, though!

Midfield auditions continue

After the game, Mark Parsons and the players were annoyed with their inability to find the fluidity to craft consistent chances from their possession, but all acknowledged that it’s also a process. However, that process is slightly behind schedule due to the unfortunate knee injury suffered by Bayley Feist. Feist had solidified her name in Parsons’ preferred XI heading into the season and had solid performances until injuring her knee in training.

Since, Parsons has looked to Marissa Sheva and Inès Jaurena in that position, with Jaurena getting the nod against Houston.

In her audition, Jaurena struggled to connect passes, exiting the match with 67% pass accuracy, 0 tackles won and 1 interception. The caveat is that the NWSL is a difficult league to adjust to, and there were some bright moments. Jaurena grew into the game and began moving the ball quicker, and she often found good positions in and out of possession. However, it will take time to fully adjust.

While the Spirit remain unbeaten the regular season, someone must nail down the Feist position so the team can find the fluidity to improve in their chance creation.

The defense is alright

While things in possession are still being ironed out, one thing that’s seeming more settled is the Spirit’s ability to defend dangerous attacking play and players. Houston boasts an absurd front line, with María Sánchez, Diana Ordóñez and Ebony Salmon. The versatility of all three combined can give defenses headaches and way too much to think about. Sánchez is a terror 1v1 with a killer left foot capable of dropping dimes or hitting the back of the net from distance. Ordóñez is a nearly 6′ target forward with quick feet and good balance, while Salmon loves darting in behind and leaving defenses in her wake.

None of that mattered against the Spirit.

Washington’s defense, which may we remind you includes a forward turned center back, held the Dash to an expected goals (xG) total of just .4. That’s the lowest number the Dash have had all season. To put an even finer point on it, the Dash have been over 1.0xG in every one of their regular season matches, even hitting 2.6 versus Chicago.

Being able to cope with an attack as varied as the Dash’s showed true cohesion in defense. As a team, the Spirit successfully defended 9 of Houston’s 15 dribbles, made 10 blocks, 16 interceptions, and 20 clearances.

Thank you, Aubrey Kingsbury

Keepers save points, and despite the Spirit’s defense handling a star studded attack, it only takes a second to score a goal, and there are a lot of seconds in 90 minutes. Like this one, where it seemed that despite the resolute defending, Washington was heading toward being down 0-1. Thankfully, we have Aubrey Kingsbury.

Ashley Sanchez came to play

After an initial few games in which Ashley Sanchez seemed to struggle to find her place in Parsons’s new system, she made her mark in this match. In one night, she nearly doubled the number of shots she’s taken and progressive passes she’s made this season and led the team with shots on target.

One of her shots was a heartbreaker of a header that just missed the goal, banging off the woodwork. Still, that attempt shows what a dynamic and engaged Sanchez can bring to the Spirit’s offense. She both creates her own chance by making a long pass up the field to Hatch and continuing her own run to get into position for Hatch’s cross, showing the chemistry she has with her teammates.

And she was at it again just a minute later, recovering the ball through a successful tackle and taking another shot that went just above the goal. As the team works to more consistently create chances, the more Sanchez is integrated into the attack, the better.

This article was co-written by Annie Elliott

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[…] Bayley Feist, whom the Spirit relied upon to help transition the ball into the attack in early matches this season, is expected to be out for at least a couple months with an injury, putting rookies Nicole Douglas and Riley Tanner in contention to start on her side of the midfield diamond. Otherwise, the starting XI should resemble the one Washington have rolled out previously. The Spirit focus their attack on forwards Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch but will hopefully step up integration of Ashley Sanchez that the team showed last week. […]

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