Washington Spirit play away tonight against a Chicago Red Stars side looking to bounce back after a 5-2 loss to OL Reign. Though unbeaten so far in the season, the Spirit will need all three points if they want to stay near the top of the competitive NWSL rankings.
After going scoreless against Houston last Saturday, the Spirit focused on attacking in training this week, head coach Mark Parsons reported, calling it “the best week of training we’ve had this year.” Parsons stressed the need for his team to have “great organization and communication,” the lack of which have prevented them from maintaining possession and consistently creating chances, with players often seeming unable to link up in the attacking third.
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.
Chicago has played in a 3-4-3 formation in their first four games, although there’s a chance they could make a change after their tough loss last week. In that formation, Chicago would look to tax the Spirit defensively by sending a high number of players forward toward Washington’s goal, with goals even more likely to come from midfielders and defenders than forwards. If the Spirit are able to maintain possession and get behind the bulk of the Red Stars attack, they could find success, though: Chicago’s defense has conceded 12 goals this season, and normally stalwart goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is currently ranked 12th in saves in the league.
Key Player: Sam Staab
One of the players tasked with defending against the onslaught of Chicago attackers will be center back Sam Staab. Sometimes called the “iron woman” of the team, Staab has played every minute of every game for Washington since the start of the 2022 season and is expected to break the NWSL records for consecutive starts by making her 73rd tonight. In addition to taking powerful set piece kicks, Staab has helped to keep the number of goals conceded by the Spirit low this season, blocking 7 shots and making 4 successful tackles.
Watch Out For: Yūki Nagasato
With an 82.7 percent pass completion rate and proven skill at taking on and tackling opposing players to win the ball, Midfielder Yūki Nagasato is essential to the Red Stars attack. She also has one goal and one assist to her name so far, making her a threat both directly and in distribution.
Challenges: Despite their losing record, Chicago are a high-scoring team, with 9 goals in 4 matches this season. The Spirit, who’ve struggled to create chances, will need to increase their offensive effectiveness to keep up if the Red Stars are able to get a few early goals.
Previously: After battling the Red Stars to win the 2021 NWSL Championship, Washington tied both games against the team last season – going 1-1 and 0-0 in matches only one week apart.
Chicago Red Stars Availability:
Out: Cheyna Matthews (ankle); Addie McCain (ankle); Kayla Sharples (knee); Mallory Swanson (knee)
Questionable: Emily Boyd (illness)
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Bayley Feist (lower leg); Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee); Tori Huster (SEI – lower leg)
Questionable: Dorian Bailey (thigh)
Location: SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, IL
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. EST
Referee: Matthew Corrigan
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
Available streaming: Paramount+