Already eliminated on points, Washington Spirit will play their last match of the 2023 Challenge Cup tonight against Orlando Pride. Since the Pride have also been ruled out of the knock-out rounds, both teams will be looking to stay sharp and maybe try out some new things before returning to regular season play.
The Spirit are coming off an exciting 4-2 comeback victory against NJ/NY Gotham FC, in which the whole team pulled together and put in strong performances under the leadership of captain Ashley Hatch. They’ll need to take some lessons away from that game, including starting off strong and not panicking after they’re scored against. They’ve shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation since they last faced the Pride, which could give them a defensive edge.
Some of both teams’ World Cup athletes are technically available for this match, but it’s unlikely they’ll be back and ready to play just days after their national teams were eliminated from the competition. In the event Washington do have to face the likes of Marta and Adriana tomorrow night, they will have some new and returning talents of their own to work with. Both Tori Huster and Bayley Feist returned to play last week after long periods of injury, and new international signee Annaïg Butel could be making her first appearance for the Spirit tonight.
Key Player: Chloe Ricketts
16-year-old (yes, we have to mention it every time) midfielder Chloe Ricketts has taken on the role of starting attacking midfielder in the absence of Ashley Sanchez, and it’s clear just how much she’s progressed this season. Already a fan favorite for her exciting ball movement and fearlessness in taking on more experienced opponents, Ricketts now has her first professional goal under her belt.
Watch Out For: Julie Doyle, Messiah Bright
A regular starting forward for Orlando in the World Cup window, Julie Doyle scored a brace against the Spirit when the teams met in Orlando a month ago and would no doubt relish the chance to repeat. Messiah Bright is a dangerous attacker who, with a 4.3, has the highest xG of any player available for this match.
Challenges: Washington have been hot-and-cold over the past few weeks and suffered some of their worst losses at the hands of Orlando. The Spirit will need to bring the creativity and ability to finish their chances they showed last week to defeat this team that seems to have their number.
Previously: In their first Challenge Cup match-up, the Spirit beat Orlando with 4 goals from distance to Orlando’s 2, but the Pride have won two regular season games against Washington since then.
Orlando Pride Availability:
Out: Carrie Lawrence (SEI – knee); Thais Reiss (abdomen); Celia (thigh)
International duty: None
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee); Inès Jaurena (knee); Civana Kuhlmann (SEI – knee); Tara McKeown (lower leg); Ouleymata Sarr (lower leg)
International duty: Aubrey Kingsbury (USA); Trinity Rodman (USA); Ashley Sanchez (USA); Andi Sullivan (USA)
Location: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL
Kickoff time: 7 p.m. ET
Referee: Brad Jensen
Available streaming: Paramount+