Preview: Washington Spirit (h).
Updated: Mar 18
When? March 19 2022, 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. GMT.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game is being broadcast on Paramount+ for residents of North America. For international supporters, the game is being broadcast on Twitch.
We might not have a clue what's happening in the regular season yet, but the Challenge Cup is finally here! And what a way for the Pride to open their campaign, at home against the reigning NWSL Champions? This game will be a valuable yard stick for Amanda Cromwell's team, just to see where they are. I have always said I don't think you can read anything into pre-season results. This is going to be a great test for the Pride.
Much has been made of the Pride's roster changes this off-season, with some fans expressing concern at the number of departures. I for one, am excited about this roster. It seems like it's designed to be greater than the sum of its parts. There is a healthy mix of experience and youth, with a sizeable smattering of talented players that will feel they have a point to prove in this league.
This certainly promises to be an exciting season for the Pride, with the Challenge Cup representing a very real opportunity to get our hands on some silverware.
The Spirit were something of a surprise package in 2021, storming to their maiden NWSL Championship. A feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the club was swamped with off the field issues. The scandal involving former coach Richie Burke was part of a wider exposure of league failings in terms of the league's inability to adequately protect its players. It undoubtedly took a heavy mental toll on the squad.
All that being said Kris Ward and his players summoned the courage and mental strength to fire the club to post-season glory. The protracted takeover saga has now drawn to a close, with Michelle Kang taking a controlling stake in the Spirit. Things are looking good for this team.
The underlying stats surrounding their success certainly underpin their claims to be the best team in the league; a 45.8% win ration, 299 shots, 34 goals and only 22 conceded (figures 1 & 2). This team was the best team in the NWSL last year. This statement might seem like something of an oxymoron given their Championship status, but the very nature of play-off soccer doesn't always lead to the best team taking home the crown. The Spirit were a great watch and are fully deserving of their champion title.
Figure 1 shows Washington's scoring statistics in 2021.
Figure 2 shows Washington's defensive statistics in 2021.
The Spirit are quite a direct team, but not necessarily in the traditional 'Sam Allardyce sense. They are blessed with an abundance of pace and skill in the final third. Ashley Hatch's experience and quality with her back to goal allows the likes of Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman to get the ball in dangerous areas. The trio were responsible for 21 of the team's goals in 2021 (figure 3). Getting to grips with them is going to be key to the Pride getting anything from this game.
Figure 3 is a line-up graphic displaying the team's last starting XI (2021 Championship game) and their respective season G/A.
Pride head coach Amanda Cromwell has stated her squad is fully fit*, though they may need to 'manage some minutes'.
*Aside from long-term injury, Julie Doyle.
EDIT 3/18: Abi Kim (injury), Vivianna Villacorta (injury) and Caitlin Cosme (D45) are all out.
Washington Spirit have yet to report any player absences.
Possible starting XI
The Spirit's roster is looking strong this year. There hasn't been a whole lot of change, with Nicole Barnhart probably being the most notable addition. Signing the likes of Hatch and Rodman to new deals is huge. Kris Ward has favoured a 4-2-3-1 in the past, so I can see them lining up something like this:
The forward was rewarded for her stellar 2021 campaign with a record breaking new 3 year deal. Her 6 goals and 6 assists in 22 games underlined her status as one of the best players in women's soccer. She amassed 1,772 minutes, played 34 key passes and made 45 successful dribbles, at a completion rate of 44%. Her fotmob.com rating 7.55 on the season was team leading. She's athletic, explosive and destined for the top.
Both teams are playing their opening game of the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup.
Cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com