With the 2023 World Cup in full swing, Washington Spirit head into a stretch of Challenge Cup games. The first of those is tonight against North Carolina Courage in Cary, NC.
It’s perhaps a good thing that the Spirit don’t have a regular season game for a while. They’ve struggled in their first two games without the seven members of their team called up to World Cup rosters, losing to Orlando Pride and drawing San Diego Wave. Challenge Cup games, which coach Mark Parsons has used throughout the season to get minutes for newer players, will give them the opportunity to try some new things and work on communication among the altered group of starters.
In news that should delight all Spirit fans, those starters could include Tori Huster and Bayley Feist, who the Spirit announced on Friday have been removed from the Season-Ending and 45-Day Injury lists, respectively. Huster, a Spirit player since the team’s founding, has been off the field since she tore her Achilles tendon in the 2021 NWSL semifinals, while Feist had a promising start to this season but was sidelined with an injury and last played on April 1. Both are excellent and experienced midfielders who could help the Spirit regain the control their diamond formation calls for.
North Carolina lead the East Division with 5 points to Washington’s 3. Like the Spirit, the Courage have lost a number of players to the World Cup, but they remain a formidable opponent – and one that’s never lost a Challenge Cup game at home. Typically using a 4-3-2-1 formation, the Courage have high passing and shooting accuracy and consistently maintain a higher percentage of possession than their opponents.
Key Player: Inès Jaurena
Typically playing a box-to-box midfield role, Inès Jaurena has stepped into the 6 position in the absence of Andi Sullivan. That position has been essential to the Spirit’s success this season, called upon to direct and switch play, in addition to defending. Jaurena – a fearless defender who has become one of the best passers on the team – has what it takes to fill that role admirably.
Watch Out For: Tyler Lussi
Tyler Lussi is the Courage’s leading second-best goal-scorer with 4 goals so far this season and with Kerolin on international duty is also the lead in shots and shots on target. A forward who has also played right back throughout her career, Lussi also brings a strong defensive skills to her playstyle.
Previously: The Courage beat Washington 2-1 in their June 14 Challenge Cup match at Audi Field.
North Carolina Courage Availability:
Out: Emily Gray (SEI – knee); Clara Robbins (SEI – lower leg); Meredith Speck (SEI – knee);
Haleigh Stackpole (leg)
Questionable: Estelle Johnson (lower leg)
International duty: Emily Fox (USA), Mille Gejl (DEN), Rikke Madsen (DEN), Casey Murphy (USA), Kerolin (BRA), Denise O’Sullivan (IRL)
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee); Civana Kuhlmann (SEI – knee)
International duty: Gabrielle Carle (CAN); Aubrey Kingsbury (USA); Trinity Rodman (USA); Ashley Sanchez (USA); Marissa Sheva (IRL); Andi Sullivan (USA); Riley Tanner (PAN)
Location: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC
Kickoff time: 7 p.m. EDT
Referee: Thomas Snyder
Available TV: NBC Sports Washington
Available streaming: Paramount+