When Sky Blue FC hosts the Washington Spirit tonight at 6 p.m. ET, at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J., it does so with several things in common with its opposition.
For one, tonight’s game marks the last time both teams will field a starting XI before players depart to national team training camps in preparation for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Sky Blue (1-0-1) will lose versatile defender Kelley O’Hara and team captain Christie Rampone, while the Spirit (1-1-0) lose goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger.
Both team’s lone win also came against reigning NWSL Champions FC Kansas City.
Sky Blue upset the champs, 1-0, in the season opener before Washington took them down the following week, 3-1, behind a spectacular brace from midfielder Christine Nairn.
Injuries may also hamper both sides in what is the first of just two meetings this season.
Krieger has been ruled out for the Spirit after being concussed two weeks ago at Houston. Meanwhile, Sky Blue forward Nadia Nadim is expected to play despite a groin injury limiting her to 45 minutes last week against the Dash.
The halftime exit marked the first time in Nadim’s NWSL career that she has not gotten either a goal or assist when starting.
However, a matchup against a shaky Spirit defense could be just the remedy.
Washington ranked third to last in the league last year in goals allowed (43) and has yet to secure a shutout this year with Harris standing on her head with a league leading 14 saves.
But the Spirit do pack a punch in the attacking third, even with the departure of leading goal scorer Jodie Taylor to the Portland Thorns this offseason.
Along with the in-form Nairn, Crystal Dunn is starting to come into her own as a forward.
The versatile Dunn scored her first professional goal against FC Kansas City, a week after United States national team coach Jill Ellis cut her from the team.
“She can change games in split seconds,” Spirit head coach Mark Parson’s told The Equalizer about Dunn’s talent level. “Her pace, energy, fight, desire going forward, her quality 1-v-1 dribbling, creativity… I don’t understand how she doesn’t go [to the World Cup.] I think she’s a game-changer going forward and a game-changer going back.”
A chance to impress against a Sky Blue backline featuring two national team members could serve as extra motivation for Dunn to send a message.
The Spirit also recently added Nigerian striker Francisca Ordega who impressed with her 40 minutes off the bench against Kansas City and adds to their attacking depth.
One thing’s for sure, goals are likely when these teams meet.
Of the three games last year, two of them ended with 6 total goals between them by score lines of 3-3 and 4-2, respectively. Yet, despite the close encounters, Sky Blue is a dominant 5-0-2 against Washington all-time and enters the game looking to extend its franchise-record seven-game unbeaten streak to eight.
With three of the New Jersey side’s next four games on the road, and the looming loss of Rampone and O’Hara to World Cup duty, tonight’s game holds even more relevance.
“We are facing a very important match against Washington,” said Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra. “Every game is a big game in this league, and every opponent is a quality opponent. Looking at the schedule you will see that we only face Washington twice this year, and this is our only home fixture with them. This game will play a critical role in the long-term picture of the season.”