Preview: Washington Spirit (h).
Updated: May 15, 2021
When? Sunday May 16, 3 p.m. PT, 6 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? All supporters can watch live (nationally and internationally) via Twitch, either on the Twitch app or at twitch.tv.
Oh, hey Washington. Long time, no see. It's been, what... 3 weeks? The start of the 2021 NWSL regular season is finally upon us. The first such game, for the Pride, since the conclusion of the 2019 season. Marc Skinner's team should head into this game in high spirits. Pun intended, obviously. Come on? You know me by now. An encouraging win over this weekend's opponents, was followed up by a superb defensive display in North Carolina. The Pride were resolute in their encouraging draw with the 2019 NWSL Championship winners. And now the Spirit are back for more. This will be another tough test for the Pride, but one they should come through...
Washington Spirit's style
In my preview for the previous meeting between these two sides, I spoke of how Washington like to use a possession based approach. That still holds true. In their recent draw with Gotham FC, the Spirit held 58.9% of the overall play (figure 1). Their ability to keep possession, and to overload using their full-backs, makes them a dangerous opponent. Particularly for a team that plays as direct and narrow as the Orlando Pride.
Orlando will undoubtedly set their stall out to be the antithesis of Washington's measured approach. Orlando like to get in the faces of the opposition, and get the ball forwards quickly. Which seemed to work well a couple of weeks ago. Washington were unable to monopolise possession of the ball, as much as they would've liked (figure 2).
Figure 1 shows the possession based statistics from Washington's (left) games against Gotham FC (right).
Figure 2 shows the possession based statistics from Washington's right) defeat to ourselves (left).
That rarest of issues, for both teams this week. The fact that there are no issues. At least, there were none at the time of writing. There is a clean bill of health across both rosters. Well, no new injuries at least. The Spirit's Averie Collins continues to be absent with a season ending ACL injury.
With no rounds of international fixtures this week, both squads have their full complement of international players available also.
Edit: Marc Skinner today (5/14) confirmed Jade Moore would miss the game, alongside Ali Riley who has been added to the NWSL injury report.
Possible starting XI
Richie Burke favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, and has plenty of options in attack. They are also able to play with a back 3, in a 3-4-3. Although, I do not believe that's how they will approach this one. The Pride play quite narrow, and the 4-2-3-1 set up allows them to overload with the full-backs. They had some success against Orlando with this method (see the heatmap in figure 3). Kelley O'Hara and Tegan McGrady were able to get forward at will. I can see the same system being utilised on Sunday, with the following line-up
Figure 3 shows the heatmap for Kelley O'Hara and Tegan McGrady, from their defeat in Orlando. Look how high they got up the field.
Sanchez continues to prove her value to this team, even though the goals have dried up for Washington. However, their current goalscoring malaise certainly cannot be laid at the feet of Sanchez. During the draw with Gotham, the Spirit's number 10 posted some impressive statistics. Sanchez took 2 shots, found 3 key passes, had 50 touches and posted a 77.8% pass success rate. You'll see from her passing position matrix in figure 4, that she was playing a lot of, what I term, high-risk passes (passes forward, in the final third). And her movement was excellent. Clever player, who excels in finding pockets of space in front of the back-line. Orlando will need to marshal her well, in order to sedate Washington's attacking threat.
Figure 4 shows Ashley Sanchez's passing matrix, whole 90, from their game against Gotham FC.
Washington concluded their 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup in disappointing form, ending without a goal in their last 2 games. A 1-0 defeat in Orlando was followed up by an equally disappointing 0-0 draw with Gotham FC. Richie Burke's team were 1-1-2 overall. Washington will be hoping to get their regular season off to a decent start, by finding their scoring boots and exacting revenge on the Pride.
Whilst Orlando, undoubtedly, were disappointed not to reach the Challenge Cup final, they ended in promising fashion. Their 1-0 win over the Spirit was followed by that encouraging draw in North Carolina. Marc Skinner's team were also 1-1-2, having gained a fortunate draw in Louisville, before being humbled by Gotham FC at home. All this, prior to the 2 clean sheets they finished the tournament with.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com