No one likes spoilers. In movies and in television spoilers can ruin a perfectly good show or event. They are almost always skewed and generally speaking very cut and dry when it comes to the key points. This same philosophy applies to spoilers on the pitch. There is nothing worse than when one team goes to another team’s park and crushes their hope for a little bit of glory. That is precisely what the Washington Spirit hope to do Sky Blue FC and their playoff hopes when they travel to Yurcak Field in Piscataway, New Jersey (go90, 6pm EST).
For Sky Blue it is very simple: if they lose this match they are all but out of the running for the NWSL playoffs. SBFC currently find themselves in sixth place (9-10-2, 29 points), just six points behind the Chicago Red Stars (10-6-5, 35 points) for the fourth and final spot in the NWSL’s second season. Seattle Reign FC are sandwiched in between the two with an 8-7-7 record on 31 points. It should also be noted that both Sky Blue and Chicago have a game advantage on Seattle so while things aren’t dire yet for The Blues a slip up against the Spirit would all but seal their fate.
To say that 2017 has been a difficult campaign for the Spirit would be an understatement. They currently find themselves in last place in the NWSL Standings (4-13-4, 16 points) and are coming off a week in which they lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to the North Carolina Courage and a 4-0 trouncing at the hands of the Portland Thorns in Oregon. The news got worse for the Spirit midweek with the announcement that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, member of the NWSL April and June Team of the Month, would be taking a medical leave of absence for the remainder of the season. Labbe joins a rather lengthy list of Spirit players who are out for the remainder of the season including Yanara Aedo, Francisca Ordega, Estelle Johnson, Estefania Banini, Line Jensen, Joanna Lohman, and Arielle Shipp.
Despite their many problems Spirit coach Jim Gabarra made it very clear last week that this side is not going to throw in the towel. That should worry Sky Blue supporters considering that two of Washington’s four wins on the season come against SBFC. That includes a 4-1 win last month at Yurcak in which Washington came back from a goal deficit. In that match Gabarra used Havana Solaun to push back the normally aggressive SBFC midfield into a more defensive posture. Solaun and forward Mallory Pugh will need to sustain possession on the attack if Washington have any designs on pulling off another result.
For Sky Blue their attacking strategy is rather simple: get Samantha Kerr the ball inside the box. Kerr has torn apart NWSL defenses this season to the tune of 16 goals and is on pace to break the league’s all-time goal scoring record. The primary reason why she has been so effective this is her relationship with midfielder Kelley O’Hara. Kerr likes to make diagonal runs against defenders and with O’Hara’s precision passing it makes the duo incredibly dangerous. Spirit center-backs Shelina Zadorsky and Whitney Church have proven against Kerr that they can hold their own against the Australian international.
Despite their differences in the standings Sunday’s should prove to be a close match. While Washington have gotten the best of Sky Blue FC this season both have been rather close encounters. With everything on the line Sky Blue will need to put away the spoilers and hope that it is enough to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Sky Blue FC