The Washington Spirit will take on the Western New York Flash in the final game of the 2016 NWSL Season on Sunday. Finishing the regular season in second and fourth place, respectively, the two teams have already met twice this season. The first match ended 3-0 in favor of Washington, but their September 1st match resulted in a 1-1 tie. Both teams won hard-fought semifinals against very difficult sides by one goal margins, so the matchup will likely be equal.
Washington's team spirit will help carry them
The Washington Spirit, a team that boasts American national teamers Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn, has come a long way from their last place finish in 2013. After losing in the playoffs last year, they entered the 2016 season with a new determination. Sitting in the top three spots of the table for the majority of the season, the team secured their home playoff match with a second place finish in the table, behind only the Portland Thorns. Thanks to the leadership of Krieger, who was the first member of the USWNT to return to her club team post-Olympics, the team was able to find a rhythm, and their cohesiveness is a very large part of their success. Sunday, they will be looking to Argentinian Estefania Banini and Canadian Diana Matheson to put the ball in the net. Midfielder Joanna Lohman has also been an integral part of both the team culture and the dangerous attack.
Western New York relies on quick and powerful attack
After their seventh place finish in 2015, few people expected for the Western New York Flash to even make the playoffs. When it was announced that they’d be playing the Portland Thorns, a team with five USWNT players along with numerous other internationals, even fewer expected they’d make it to the final.
Two goals in overtime proved to be too much for the star-studded Thorns team to recover from, and the game ended 4-3 in favor of the New Yorkers. It’s important to note, though, that three of their four goals came off of long throws into the box that the Thorns were unable to defend. Their forwards have undeniable pace, and in order to prevent crosses, defenders attempted to clear the ball for a throw in, but that ended up backfiring when the throws were able to reach the near-post in the air.
If Washington wants to find success on Sunday, they will need to learn from the Thorns’ mistakes and be wary of all throw-ins given up in the final third. Although they have fewer big-name players, the Flash is a gritty team who will do what they need to win, so the match will be sure to excite fans of both (or neither) teams.
The game will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas on October 9th. Kickoff is at 5 PM EST, and the match will be shown on FS1. Tickets and information about the match can be found here.