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Washington Spirit, NWSL adjust to more departures to Women’s World Cup

Washington Spirit defender Amy Harrison, who last week was named to the Australian World Cup squad, meets with young fans after 3-1 victory over the Portland Thorns at Maryland SoccerPlex. (Tony Quinn for The Washington Post)
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While the two call-ups to the U.S. Women’s World Cup squad departed the Washington Spirit a few weeks ago, the two Aussies and the Jamaican selected by their respective national teams made their farewell appearances Saturday.

And so beginning this week, and for one to two months, the Spirit will attempt to fill roster gaps and continue its National Women’s Soccer League campaign without several key players.

The Spirit is not alone; each of the nine teams will feel the impact of the sport’s premier competition, which falls in the middle of the league calendar.

“It comes down to how you fill those voids,” Spirit Coach Richie Burke said Sunday. “What have you done to compensate for that? We’ll see where it goes. It’s an interesting time.”

The national team assignments come at a high time for the Spirit, which, a year after winning two of 24 matches, is off to a 3-1-1 start following a 3-1 victory over the Portland Thorns on Saturday at Maryland SoccerPlex.

For the foreseeable future, Washington will be without midfielder Rose Lavelle, a starter on the top-ranked U.S. team; attacker Mallory Pugh, a U.S. regular; Australia’s Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison; and Jamaica’s Cheyna Matthews.

World Cup teams have begun or are about to start training camp ahead of the 24-nation tournament, which will kick off June 7 in Paris and culminate with the July 7 final in Lyon.

The NWSL — which will supply close to 60 players to World Cup squads, including the entire U.S. roster — will go dark June 3-14. But because it’s an April-October league, organizers decided they could not shut down completely for an event spanning a month, plus training camps and post-tournament recovery.

If the defending champion United States advances deep into the competition, Lavelle and Pugh probably will end up missing nine NWSL matches — 38 percent of the 24-match schedule.

Matthews, an American with Jamaican family roots, scored twice against Sky Blue FC last week. Lorarzo has served a key role in midfield and Harrison, a natural midfielder, on Saturday provided cover at left back.

A third U.S. candidate, midfielder Andi Sullivan, was among the last players left off Jill Ellis’s 23-player roster. While the Spirit was disappointed for her, the team will undoubtedly benefit from her omission.

Also staying is Aubrey Bledsoe, who has emerged as one of the league’s top goalkeepers.

As teams are eliminated from the World Cup, players will begin returning to their NWSL clubs. In its first appearance, Jamaica will be hard-pressed to advance out of group play. Australia, however, is a championship contender.

“I would be really worried if the spectrum of ability was broad and there were a big wide gap between the top players and bottom players,” said Burke, who is in his first season with the Spirit. “But there is not. Training is tight. There are a couple players knocking on the door and very close to starting.

“It’s a chance for them to shine and make a mark in this league. It’s an opportunity for players on the fringe to now play.”

To help compensate for roster holes, the Spirit is aiming to bolster its ranks with permanent and temporary additions and use of the supplemental roster.

The front office is in negotiations with British American Brianna Visalli, a former U.S. under-23 national team midfielder who started 16 times and appeared in 20 matches overall this season for West Ham in England. The sides, however, are at an impasse over the contract, Burke said.

The Spirit was not hardest hit by World Cup departures, though. Portland lost nine players, including U.S. starters Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan and Canadian star Christine Sinclair. The reigning champion North Carolina Courage will play without U.S. starters Abby Dahlkemper and Crystal Dunn, who are among seven departures.

The sixth-ranked Australian squad features 12 NWSL players, and No. 5 Canada will carry about 10.

As Burke fills voids, the Spirit will attempt to continue its good fortune following Saturday’s victory before 3,049 spectators.

Ashley Hatch scored in the 16th minute, and an own goal early in the second half doubled the lead. After Australia’s Caitlin Foord struck for the Thorns (2-1-2) in the 67th minute, Spirit rookie Jordan DiBiasi scored directly off a corner kick four minutes later.

The next test is Saturday at Chicago, which lost U.S. starters Alyssa Naeher and Julie Ertz and Australia’s Sam Kerr, one of the world’s best forwards.

“I trust in the group. I trust in the players,” Burke said. “It’s a nice little group, and despite the absences, I think we will be okay.”