• Dan Berridge

Preview: Washington Spirit (h).

Updated: Apr 29

When? April 21 2021, 4 p.m. (PT), 7 p.m. (ET), 12 midnight (BST). Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL. How can I catch the action? The game is live on Paramount+ for residents of the United States. And live on Twitch for international supporters via the website twitch.tv ot via the Twitch app.


The Orlando Pride will doubtless have been doing a lot of soul searching in the wake of their defeat to Gotham FC. Whilst the season is very much in its infancy, there were some all too familiar signs of trouble etched across the surfaces of both their opening games. With a 4-6-18 record, the Pride head coach's seat is bound to be getting a little warm. Don't expect the Pride to pull the trigger anytime soon, though. The Pride are building a strong roster, so Marc Skinner will be given the time to make things work. You get the sense this has to start sooner rather than later, though.


That being said, we have a fascinating contest ahead of us so let's get stuck into it.

Washington's style


Washington utilise a possession based style, which they use to break down the opposition. If you look at figures 1 & 2, you'll see what I mean. During their most recent game, against Louisville they chalked up 56% of the overall play, playing over 100 more passes than their opponents, with a significantly better passing accuracy rate (80.6% versus 71.9%). Similarly, in their defeat to the Courage, the Spirit notched 442 passes (against 318). Their impressive 80.3% pass completion rate helped them to monopolise 57.5% of the overall play. They aim to draw you out with this possession based style, before attempting to pick you off with the quality they have in their 3-fold forward line.

Figure 1 shows the possession statistics for Washington (left) in their win over Racing Louisville.

Figure 2 shows the possession statistics for Washington (right) in their defeat in North Carolina.


This patient build-up approach encourages teams to come out of a low-block and press them. Which is exactly what Richie Burke's team wants you to come and do. They have the technical ability in midfield, with the likes of Jacobs and Bailey to find their front 3 in little pockets of space. That's when they can hurt you. And you actually saw that a lot in the win over Louisville. Washington were able to find their forwards around the Louisville area, as nauseam (figure 3). The goal was an excellent example as Bailey and Huster combine to find Trinity Rodman. The youngster then picks out Sanchez with a peach of a cross; one that the second year rookie volleys home (figure 4).


Orlando will have to get to grips with the Spirit's midfield, and retain their defensive shape. If not, it could be a long evening.

Figure 3 Washington's forwards and midfielders got into some very good positions as a result of their intelligent distribution.

Figure 4 shows an excellent example of the aforementioned distribution, which led to their winning goal.


Team news


Washington will, possibly, be without Emily Sonnett and Kelley O'Hara, who have been on international duty with the USWNT alongside Alex Morgan. Gunny Jónsdóttir could also be absent for the Pride, having captained the Icelandic national team last week.


EDIT: Alex Morgan has declared herself available for this tie. 4/20/21


Aside from the aforementioned absences, both managers have fully fit squads to choose from.


Possible starting XI


Spirit head coach Richie Burke has a talented squad at his disposal, even sans Rose Lavelle. The Spirit have a fairly settled line-up, that usually operates in a 3-4-3 formation. Against Louisville they went with Hatch, Sanchez and Rodman up top, as opposed to Hatch, Sanchez and Yokoyama (as they did on opening day). Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman seem to be linking up well together, so I don't see that changing this time.


Top player


Ashley Sanchez

Widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the NWSL, the 22-year-old forward got her 2021 season off to a flier with a well taken goal in the Spirit's win over Louisville. The young American scored 23 goals in 69 games for UCLA, during her collegiate career. She has also impressed for the USWNT youth sides having scored 21 in 21 for the U-17s and 11 in 33 for the U-20s. Whilst she didn't score during the Fall Series she impressed with her work rate, and willingness to help the team defensively with 7 interceptions and 4 blocks across the 4-game series. Which, off the back of her showing at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, where she showed her creative abilities with 1 assist and 7 key passes, convinced the Spirit to have her back for a second year. If she can score consistently, there's no reason Sanchez can't go on to be seen as one of the league's best strikers.


Form

The Spirit come into this game on the back off a solid win over Racing Louisville. The Spirit took the spoils with a 1-0 win, courtesy of that Ashley Sanchez strike. Prior to that, Washington fell to the North Carolina Courage, 3-2. Yokoyama and Rodman with the goals for Washington.


The Pride, however, followed their disappointing draw with Louisville up with an even more disappointing defeat to Gotham FC. There are fresh question marks over the future of head coach Marc Skinner. The Pride will need to get back to winning ways as soon as possible, as a result.


*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com

Game still courtesy of the CBS Sports Network.