In a must-win situation against the National Women’s Soccer League’s top team, Washington Spirit hosts its final home game of the season Saturday at Maryland SoccerPlex. The Spirit will have the added help of midfielder Rose Lavelle. She is available after a whirlwind trip to the 2019 FIFA Best Awards in Milan, Italy.
Washington returns to the SoccerPlex for the first time in over a month following two games at Audi Field and two road games. They secured only two points in the last three games, which means the Spirit must win all three of its remaining games to keep playoff hopes alive. The first of those games is no easy task against the defending NWSL champions, North Carolina Courage.
The Courage comes to town with a week of rest while Washington returns home after three games in eight days, including a midweek scoreless draw at the Houston Dash. Lavelle was an unused substitute in Houston.
Since returning from the World Cup, Lavelle has not seen much of the field for the Spirit. She has played three games out of 10 since scoring in the World Cup final for the United States women’s national team. Injury and the USWNT victory tour have kept Lavelle away from her normal role as the Spirit’s playmaker.
Prior to the game in Houston, Lavelle traveled to Milan for the FIFA Best Awards where she was named to the FIFA Starting XI. She rejoined the Spirit in Texas midweek and was named to the game-day roster, but was kept off the field at the suggestion of U.S. Soccer, according to the Washington Post.
“At times, we make recommendations on what we think are the best courses of action regarding the overall health perspective of the national team players,” USSF spokesman Neil Buethe told Post reporter Steven Goff. “We don’t dictate what the players do on a day-to-day basis in these club environments, but we are invested in working in partnership with them to make sure the health of the players is always in the forefront and the top priority.”
Lavelle is healthy after recovering from a head injury earlier this month, according to the Spirit. Barring any late changes, she will likely start Saturday against the Courage.
Though the hopes for a playoff berth are still mathematically possible, Spirit coach Richie Burke saw this year as a building season. Prior to the season, the Spirit saw a new owner in local tech executive Steve Baldwin, new coach Burke and five NWSL draft picks. Two of those picks, Jordan DiBiasi and Sam Staab, have been regular starters and key pieces of the team’s new formation. The changes came as a refresh to the team, but the results have not fallen the Spirit’s way.
“I think we are good enough to be in the playoff picture. We have just been a little down on our luck,” Burke said prior to the games against Chicago Red Stars and Houston. “We are building here. We are building for next year. We are building for a team that is going to vying and competing for championships and a regular in playoffs. This year, it might be a little bit too late and a little bit of a reach for us.”
While the Spirit (7-8-6) are a longshot for the postseason, the Courage (14-4-4) have already secured the NWSL Shield for most points in the regular season and the top spot in the postseason.
When: Saturday, Sept 28 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex — Boyds, Maryland
Broadcast: NBC Sports Washington
Streaming: Monumental Sports Network, Yahoo (domestic), NWSLsoccer.com (international)