On Wednesday night at Maureen Hicks Field, the Washington Spirit will attempt to turn their season around as they host Utah Royals FC. The Spirit, who were leading the league earlier in the season, have lost their last three matches and have won just once in the last nine games. The Royals have been trending the opposite direction thanks to a rejuvenated attack courtesy of forwards Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez. After their win on Saturday, URFC now sits in fourth place on the league table.
Washington is now desperate for a win
The last third of the season has been especially difficult for the Washington Spirit. Their once-efficient performances from the beginning of the season have turned sour. The Spirit have scored just once in the last three games, echoing their struggles from last season when they scored just 12 times all season.
The midfield is still Washington's strength. As an offensive midfielder, United States women's national team star Rose Lavelle has been working hard to invigorate the Spirit offense. It feels like just a matter of time before she starts to click with forwards Cheyna Matthews and Ashley Hatch, but time is running out. Fellow midfielder Andi Sullivan is having an all-pro season in her role as a facilitator. Her utilization in head coach Richie Burke's system has turned her career around after she looked like a draft bust in 2018. She even scored a cracking goal in their 3-1 loss to Portland Thorns FC last weekend.
Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe is also having a good season, but without the offense scoring goals the team hasn't been making the most of her performances. The team has been relying heavily on the performances of young players, and like most rookies in most leagues around the world, they seem to have hit the rookie wall. The Spirit will have a tough task containing Press and Rodriguez when they face Utah on Wednesday, but they will have an equally difficult time generating offense against a stunning Royals defense.
Unfortunately for the Spirit, they are six points out of playoff position with just eight games left in the season. They will definitely need to win this coming match if they want to have a shot at climbing the ladder.
The Utah roller coaster is going back up
Like the Spirit, Utah started out the season strong before collapsing. They also briefly led the league before dropping to seventh place, but the return of Christen Press has sparked a Renaissance for the Royals.
Royals FC played through most of the season struggling to score. They were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league until recently, but over the last three games they have tallied eight goals while allowing just one against. Press and Rodriguez have each scored three times in those games.
With a resurgent offense, the rest of the team has also been playing better. Midfielder Vero Boquete has been dynamic on the ball, and her supreme technical ability has been able to shine with the pressure off of her. The defense has been able to relax since Utah has been playing with a lead. This is especially important since Kelley O'Hara is out after suffering an ankle injury.
A win on Wednesday could push Utah all the way into second place, pending the outcome of the Chicago Red Stars' game at the same time. Even if they don't quite move into position for a home playoff berth, the extra three points would put some distance between the Royals and fifth-place Reigh FC.
There are some concerns in this game for Utah. There is certainly the possibility for a regression towards the mean in terms of goal scoring. Even the best teams in the league cannot sustain scoring totals in excess of two goals per game. There have been times through the season when Utah has struggled to score, even with Press on the pitch, and there will be attempts by other teams to lock her down and force other players to make things happen. There is also the concern that Washington beat Utah 2-0 in their last meeting, and it's possible that the Spirit are just a bad matchup for Utah. Regardless, this is a game URFC should win.
How to watch
This midweek game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD. The game will be broadcast on Yahoo! Sports in the United States while international viewers will be able to watch on ESPN.