NWSL Decision Day is finally here, and, for the Washington Spirit, everything is still up for grabs. Today’s match against the North Carolina Courage – played simultaneously with every final game in the league – will determine whether the Spirit host a playoff game or pack up their cleats until next season.
Tied at 30 points, Washington and North Carolina are both battling for one of 4 unclaimed playoff spots and can both clinch and secure a first-round home game with a win. A draw or loss would complicate matters, leaving the fate of either team in the hands of the other 6 vying for spots. The Spirit are especially vulnerable because of their -2 goal differential, meaning they could lose the first tiebreaker against many of the contenders.
Complicating matters for the Spirit are the suspensions of head coach Mark Parsons and center back Tara McKeown for yellow card accumulation. Parsons has hopefully prepared his assistant coaching team to make the sideline calls needed in his absence to minimize the impact. Meanwhile, McKeown has started in all 21 of Washington’s game this season, and the defense will absolutely be weakened by the loss of her one-on-one defending skills and steady partnership with Sam Staab.
Just a few years after the break-up of their Championship dynasty team, North Carolina have rebuilt themselves into one of the best organized teams in the league, playing in a possession-based style and achieving the highest pass completion rate by a full 5 percentage points. Despite this, they’ve failed to win a game since July 1 and have put themselves in jeopardy of narrowly missing out on the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Key Player: Trinity Rodman
Though she broke her scoring streak last weekend, Rodman put up as many expected goals as the entire opposing team and nearly scored a game-winner in the final minutes. Another big performance from her could easily put the Spirit over the top.
Watch Out For: Kerolin
Keeping Brazilian winger Kerolin away from the ball will be key to the Spirit’s success. With 10 goals this season, Kerolin is just one behind the leader in the Golden Boot race and has also made an impressive 95 progressive carries, leading the league in that skill.
Challenge: Especially later in the season, Washington have struggled to finish chances, with their xG often outstripping actual goals scored. They’ve shown improvement over the last couple games in finding pathways to the goal, but they’ll need to improve their accuracy to lock down a victory tonight.
Previously: The Spirit beat the Courage 2-1 in their first regular season match-up, but North Carolina swept their Challenge Cup series this year. The most recent match-up was a demoralizing 6-0 loss for the Spirit during the World Cup.
Washington Spirit Availability:
Out: Anna Heilferty (SEI – knee); Civana Kuhlmann (SEI – knee); Inès Jaurena (foot); Tara McKeown (suspension)
North Carolina Courage Availability:
Out: Emily Gray (SEI – knee); Riley Jackson (D45 – foot); Estelle Johnson (excused absence); Rikako Kobayashi (knee); Victoria Pickett (knee); Clara Robbins (SEI – lower leg); Meredith Speck (SEI – knee); Olivia Wingate (mid-body)
Location: Audi Field
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. ET
Referee: Ricardo Fierro
Available streaming: Paramount+