The Washington Spirit will host the first place North Carolina Courage on Saturday night for the first of three regular season meetings between the clubs. Kickoff is set for 7:00 for North Carolina’s only visit to the Maryland SoccerPlex this season. [TICKETS]
Saturday’s game will feature the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the National Women’s Soccer League standings heading into the third week of play. Washington is coming off a 2-0 shutout of the Orlando Pride in its home opener on March 31, while first place North Carolina is the only team in the NWSL that has not allowed a goal through its first two games.
U.S. international forward Ashley Hatch, who earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 as a member of the Courage, netted her first goal as a member of the Spirit in the home opening victory, powering home an 88th minute strike to put the game out of reach.
Another USA forward, Mallory Pugh, claimed NWSL Player of the Week honors after netting the game-winner against Orlando on a breakaway strike through the legs of Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
Pugh, Hatch and the rest of the Spirit attack will seek to become the first offense to break through with a goal against the tough Carolina back line. The Courage are coming off back-to-back 1-0 wins in their first two games, against Portland Thorns FC and Sky Blue FC.
“We have to play to our tempo,” said Spirit Head Coach and General Manager Jim Gabarra. “We’re playing against a very strong and physical athletic opponent that’s very good at the way they play. We’ve got to come in and instill our style of play and get three points here at home.”
The Washington attack has posted the second-most shots on goal through the first two weeks with 12, while the Courage defense - led by March 2018 NWSL Team of the Month selection Jaelene Hinkle - has only allowed one shot on goal to reach goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo.
On the defensive side, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe enters the game leading the league in saves with 14 through her first two appearances with the club. Bledsoe has also the third-best save percentage at 88%.
Spirit captain Estelle Johnson is anchoring the back line once again this season, leading the league in clearances while also succeeded on all of her slide tackle attempts through the first two games.
Bledsoe, Johnson and the rest of Washington’s defensive unit will be tasked with slowing down a Courage attack featuring U.S. internationals Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams, along with Jessica McDonald, who scored a stoppage time game-winner in their last game against Sky Blue FC.
Following Saturday’s home game, the Spirit will travel to face Portland Thorns FC for a Friday night match on April 20 at Providence Park.
Single game tickets for the Washington Spirit’s regular season home games at the Maryland SoccerPlex are available now at Tickets.WashingtonSpirit.com or by calling the club’s ticket office at 301-591-0927