Washington Spirit vs Utah Royals FC: Fighting for first place
Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe has been integral in Washington's success this season. | Photo: isiphotos.com

The Washington Spirit are the big surprise of the league this year as they sit tied with Utah Royals FC at the top of the National Women's Soccer League table. This weekend the two top teams will face off in Boyds, Maryland in the last match before the league takes a short break to honor the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. The Spirit are looking to extend a three-game winning streak while Utah is looking to build off of their win over the Orlando Pride last weekend.

These teams faced off earlier this year, and Utah won that match 1-0 thanks to a Lo'eau LaBonta goal.

Utah takes first for the first time

Utah Royals FC took over first place on the league table last weekend after they won 2-0 over the Orlando Pride. This marked the first time in the team's short history that they had been first in the league. Despite missing several players for the World Cup, Utah was able to dominate the Pride, who sit in last place with just one point through seven games. This weekend will be a much bigger test, as they face off against the hottest team in the league. 

Utah finally broke their streak of one-goal games last weekend, and with how well the Spirit are scoring they will need to keep up that trend. Forward Amy Rodriguez has been on a role lately. She has scored four goals in Utah's six matches this season. 

The midfield will be a little weaker for Utah this weekend after Labonta was suspended for two games. Her suspension stems from a kick to the shins away from the play against Orlando's Carson Pickett last weekend. Vero Boquete also suffered an injury in the game last weekend, but she isn't listed on the injury report and should be good to go.

Vero has provided excellent creativity to the Utah midfield. | Photo: isiphotos.com
Vero has provided excellent creativity to the Utah midfield. | Photo: isiphotos.com

The defense for Utah could be in a tough position. The entire back line has been taken away for the World Cup, and it will be up to goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart to continue her incredible play and keep the untested defense in order against the organized Washington attack. 

Washington is on a roll

No team in the league is hotter than the Washington Spirit right now. They are riding a three-game winning streak, and with a win this weekend they could take over first place in the league. 

The MVP of this team to this point in the season has been goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. She has been named NWSL Player of the Week twice in six games, and her control of the goal box has been second to none. 

The Washington defense has been surprisingly efficient this season. They have allowed four goals and kept three clean sheets, and a big part of their efficiency has been the defensive midfield play of Andy Sullivan. After a tough rookie season, Sullivan has come on strong under the guidance of new Spirit head coach Richie Burke. The system fits her play style, and she has been instrumental in the turnaround of the team.

On offense, the Spirit have been massively improved since last year. In 2018, the team scored just 12 goals in 24 games, but this year they have already scored 10 goals in the first six matches. They will need to continue that streak if they want to beat the Royals this weekend.

This should be a great battle to see which team is more efficient in their passes and control of the game.