The Washington Spirit and Houston Dash face off on Saturday night in a game that will mean a lot to both teams. The Spirit, after capturing the top spot on the National Women's Soccer League table, have gone winless in their last four matches, but they have only dropped down to fourth place. The Dash, on the other hand, have earned just three points - courtesy of three draws - in their last seven matches and are in danger of dropping out of the playoff race. Both teams should be getting players back after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup concluded, but how much of a boost those players provide is yet to be seen.
Houston needs to turn things around
Seven weeks is a long time to go without a win, but Houston has been able to maintain a decent place in the standings thanks to a strong early season performance. Unfortunately, they have started to slip down the league table, and it is imperative that they string a few wins together if they want a shot at making their first playoff appearance in team history.
The biggest reason for Dash fans to feel hopeful is the return of forward Rachel Daly, who leads the team with three goals this season despite playing just five of their 12 games. If she can come back with the same intensity that she had before going off to play for England in the World Cup, that should be the spark that has been missing from this team. Fellow forward Kyah Simon, who has been battling injury all season, is also rounding into solid form and should help jumpstart the offense.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team has been struggling. Kealia Ohai and Sofia Huerta were expected to light the league on fire with 60 NWSL players missing for the World Cup, but instead they found it impossible to succeed without Daly in the lineup. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell has been solid, but the defense is allowing her to face far too many dangerous looks each match.
If Houston wants to beat Washington on the road this weekend, they need to make the Spirit midfield uncomfortable. Washington generally doesn't produce many scoring opportunities, so if Houston can force some turnovers and disrupt the Spirit's passing, they should have a good chance.
Despite four bad games, Washington is right at the top
Most teams that go four games without a win don't stay at the top of the table. Luckily for Washington, they played extremely well through the first seven matches of the season. With 18 points, the Spirit still sit in fourth place with a game in hand over the three teams above them.
Washington has succeeded this season by dominating possession and taking extremely good shots on goal. They don't generate a lot of offensive chances, but they have been by far the most efficient at converting their chances into goals. That efficiency has waned a bit as they have hit a bad stretch in the season, but there is some relief coming over the next few weeks.
The Spirit have three new players available to them for this game, but they aren't all expected to be featured. From the United States Women's National Team, the Spirit will get back Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh. With a lingering hamstring injury, Lavelle is not expected to play meaningful minutes in the upcoming match, but Pugh should be good to go for at least half of the match. Both players provide a lot of offensive creativity that was otherwise lacking from the inexperienced team.
The other new player is Australian midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight, who was acquired in a trade with Reign FC. Kellond-Knight is still recovering from a bit of an injury, but she could be a, integral piece for short stretches in this game.
The way Washington normally plays should match up quite well with Houston. Holding possession and probing for good shots is an excellent gameplan to beat the Dash, but they will need to actually finish their chances and stay consistent on the back line. Daly presents a big defensive issue for any team, and the Spirit haven't been as good defensively as they had been to start the season.
How to watch
The game will kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET at Maureen Hicks Field in Boyds, Maryland. The game was pushed back due to intense heat predicted to overtake the Washington D.C. metro area tomorrow. Fans in the United States can watch on Yahoo! Sports and international fans can watch on the NWSL website.