It’s crunch time for the four teams locked into the race for the 3rd and 4th NWSL playoff spots.
With less three weeks left in the regular season, there aren’t many more opportunities to gain points and secure a playoff birth. One of the teams in the playoff race, the Washington Spirit, host two games this week without leading scorer Jodie Taylor, who is away on international duty.
Taylor’s 11 goals account for over 35 percent of the team’s offensive production and she’s currently one goal off the pace of Kim Little’s league-leading 12. She’s also tied with Little and two other players for most game-winning goals at four.
Recently, Taylor’s impressive season with the Spirit helped her earn a spot on England’s final roster for an August 3rd match against Sweden.
“The last time I got called in for a long squad I didn’t quite make it,” Taylor said about the call up after last Wednesday’s match against Portland. “This time same thing a bit nerve wracking this week. Am I going to get selected or not?…I’m happy. I’ve been chasing it for quite a while so now it’s come.”
Although the call up comes at an inopportune time for his club, Spirit head coach Mark Parsons is happy for his striker.
“We’re really excited for Jodie and her opportunity,” he said. “She’s worked a long time and hard for it. I mean this, no disappointment from me at all that we’re going to miss her. We should be able to take care of things. If we don’t, it has nothing to do with Jodie being away.”
Parsons feels he has three or four good options to play the No. 9 role in Taylor’s absence. At Sunday’s practice, he revealed little about who might fill position this week. He did say the team isn’t out to play the player most similar to Taylor in the role. Parsons stressed that each of his No. 9 options brings something completely different to the table.
While the coach was pretty mum about his lineup change, he was much more open about what he feels has made Taylor so successful this season. The key, from his perspective, has been the striker’s movement.
“Her movement is so intelligent and creative and unpredictable,” Parsons said. “Wherever there is space she’ll exploit it. She’ll try to create different pockets of space and she’ll exploit it. She’ll run behind, she’ll run in between. She can run in front. She can come in deep in midfield and do link up.”
There’s no doubt Taylor has been an important cog in Parsons’ revitalization of the league’s worst team a season ago. Parsons’ additions to the squad and implementation of his coaching style and methods has paid dividends. That’s something that Parsons has to remind not only himself but his team as well as they enter this intensive stretch of the season.
“When we evaluate everything in this club and there’s so much more we want to achieve, sometimes I have to say, ‘Let’s stop for a second. Let’s just look at how far we’ve come.’ And it boosts us because we’ve come so far.”
Parsons admitted that the team’s struggles last year has led to an interesting issue this year.
“The biggest games have motivated us and brought out the best in us; there’s been a couple of big games that haven’t, and it’s been other games that have hurt because we’re not used to it,” he said. “Last year, we had a whole year where every game we’re playing a team better than us and we’re playing a team that should beat us, so we’ve had loads of experience of that…Now we find ourselves playing against teams that we are individually better and we should be better as a team. There have been times that we haven’t (been).”
According to Parsons’ analysis, the Spirit should play some high quality soccer to end the season, as three of the team’s remaining four games are against either playoff-bound teams or teams fighting for the playoffs.
One thing’s for sure, the next couple of weeks will be exciting for NWSL fans as the playoff picture takes shape. The Spirit will take on visiting FC Kansas City on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET.
When asking about Aaron Lines comments following Western New York’s loss to Breakers last Friday — that the Flash have lost all playoff hopes — Parsons admitted he sees it as gamesmanship. “Saying Washington and Chicago, when you drop names like that in front of people you’re just doing it on purpose,” Parsons said.
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