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NWSL Midweek 19 preview: What is Utah’s best front line?

(Photo Copyright Patti Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Washington Spirit (2-13-4) at Utah Royals FC
Wednesday, 10:00 p.m. EDT, Rio Tinto Stadium
All-time series: Royals lead, 1-0-0

Laura Harvey has some decisions to make. She’s started Amy Rodriguez and Diana Matheson up top alongside Christen Press numerous times, but the combination hasn’t created much in the way of results. What has worked are Katie Stengel, Erika Tymrak, and Press. On paper, Rodriguez and Matheson have better resumes than Stengel and Tymrak, and even with the eye test alone, it’s easy to see why that’s her preference. However, both are struggling to get the final piece back after ACL tears kept them out of action in 2017. Matheson started the season strong but has fallen off, and Rodriguez’ form has been hit or miss. In last weekend’s match in Houston, Tymrak subbed in for Matheson in the 58th minute, followed by Stengel in the 68th, while Rodriguez went off in the 74th. By the 83rd, Utah had scored two goals to take the lead and ultimately, the game. They had some help from Houston blunders, but those errors were caused in part by the Royals’ pressure and were capitalized on by the aforementioned three players on the field at that time by being in the right place and making the right moves to take advantage. I still maintain it’s too late for Utah to make the playoffs, but if this match was just the beginning of their reversal of fortunes, they could make things very interesting right to the end.

  • Spirit injuries: OUT – Estefania Banini, Cheyna Matthews, Tiffany Weimer, Kelsey Wys
  • Royals injuries: OUT – Alex Arlitt, Makenzy Doniak, Mandy Laddish, Kelley O’Hara; QUE – Desiree Scott, Elise Thorsnes

Houston did expose Utah’s lack of pace on the other end of the pitch, which is something Washington could do as well. They got Mallory Pugh back last week, and while it wasn’t enough to end what is now a six-game losing streak (and a 10-game winless streak), there’s no doubt that as she works her way to back to full fitness, she will make the Spirit more dangerous. It’s too late for the season, but as Sky Blue demonstrated last week, that’s no reason to roll over. Moving Rebecca Quinn back and pushing Taylor Smith up has helped some of their defensive issues, but where Pugh shines and is desperately needed is creating something to help the league’s least productive offense, with only 11 goals in 19 matches. This is also where the next element of Pugh’s game needs to grow: we know she can score, but what will take her to the next level is her creativity and combination play. There were glimmers of a partnership with Ashley Hatch earlier in the year, and it would go a long way for the Spirit’s future if she can do the same with Rose Lavelle.

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