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  • Writer's pictureEmma Treptow

A Preseason Look at the Washington Spirit

Updated: May 4, 2022

Who are they?


The Washington Spirit is one of the original NWSL clubs, founded in 2013 when the league began. The Spirit are entering the 2022 NWSL season as the defending champions, having beaten the Chicago Red Stars in extra time to win the club’s first-ever championship.

The club’s colors are red, blue, and white, a patriotic theme representing DC. The club’s badge is the same since the inaugural season and includes 12 stars within it to represent the eleven players on the field and the fans that support the team.

Photo Credit: @WashSpirit Twitter

The Spirit are led by newly promoted head coach Kris Ward. Ward was the interim coach of the Spirit for the second half of the 2021 season after Richie Burke was fired following an investigation about harassment and abuse towards players. Ward led the team to an undefeated finish to the season, despite having to forfeit two games early in his tenure due to covid issues within the squad, and ultimately the team’s first-ever championship. Fans and players, alike, are supporters of Ward and were calling for his permanent hire after the championship run. He was officially hired as the head coach of the Spirit on December 20, 2021, with Washington Spirit president Ben Olsen saying, “Kris guided this team through a turbulent season that ultimately led to our club’s first championship win. When you look at his record, it’s clear that he’s earned this. But more than that, he has helped to foster a positive environment for the players. We are very excited to keep him with us and look forward to the 2022 season.”

Alongside Ward, the Spirit have recently re-signed Lee Nguyen after his retirement from professional soccer. Nguyen joined the Spirit, initially, in October 2021 and spent the majority of his time working with the Spirit’s midfield and forward groups. Kris Ward commented saying, “One of my goals after being named head coach was to bring Lee back as part of our coaching staff. He was an incredibly important part of our championship run and I know the group is excited to have him return.” Paul Crighton will be the Spirit’s goalkeeping coach this season with Michael Minthorne continuing as the Spirit’s technical staff coach, high-performance director, and health and wellness manager. Michael Trinh is the assistant performance coach. The Spirit have also hired athletic training staff members on a full-time basis with those hires coming in the past week. Alessandro Ciarla takes the position of the club’s head athletic trainer with Summer Jones as the assistant athletic trainer.

In September, the Spirit appointed Ben Olsen, former DC United head coach, to the president of the club. Olsen had little to no experience at the women’s sports level but was brought in as “new eyes”. Olsen oversees day-to-day operations as well as works to enhance the club’s culture and identity.

In the past months, the Spirit have been in the headlines for a majority of reasons but many of them come from the controversy and chaos surrounding the ownership disputes between Y. Michele Kang and Steve Baldwin. CEO Steve Baldwin was accused of nepotism and retaliatory behavior leading to Michele Kang calling for him to step down from his position and sell his stack in the club as the majority owner of the Spirit. Players echoed this sentiment by putting out a collective statement on October 5, 2021, after Baldwin stepped down as CEO and Managing Partner. In their statement, they expressed their anger and disappointment to see that he did not give up the whole of his management control. They clearly stated that the person they trust as players is Kang as she puts the players first and listens to them. They told him to sell the team to Kang immediately. Fans rallied in support of the players, wanting what was best for them. Days later, Baldwin announced to club investors his intention to sell. Kang continuously put up amazing offers, yet he turned them down not wanting to hand the club to her, rather trying to find a different buyer. In January, Kang gained majority ownership of the club, gaining support from club investors to take control of 52% of the Spirit. Baldwin is still not out but with Kang in control and the NWSL board of governors approving the overtaking, things seem to be looking up for the Spirit front office.


Meet the Players

Photo Credit: Nikita Taparia

The Spirit currently have 38 players on their preseason roster. Out of the 38, 26 are under contract with the Spirit. They have four college draft picks in camp as non-roster invitees as well as another eight non-roster invitees. The Spirit is returning the large majority of their championship winner roster but enter this season having traded left-back Tegan McGrady to the San Diego Wave as well as losing Paige Nielsen, transferring Saori Takarada, and waiving Chinyelu Asher, Mariana Speckmaier, and Cali Farquharson.

The Spirit recently welcomed NWSL and USWNT veteran goalkeeper, Nicole Barnhart, to their squad. Known as “Barny”, she may become integral for the Spirit as they could be left with only one keeper in Devon Kerr with Aubrey Kingsbury (neé Bledsoe) starting to receive more USWNT call-ups, and with World Cup qualifying, the Spirit will be without Sydney Schneider as Jamaica starting goalkeeper at times.

The Spirit are very lucky to be welcoming three key players back from injury this season. Forward Averie Collins and Midfielder Bayley Feist both will be making their returns as neither featured last season due to preseason ACL injuries for both players. Collins was drafted 17th overall by the Spirit in 2020 and saw time in five games during that season. Feist, likewise, was drafted 17th overall by the Spirit in 2019 and had much success in the NWSL fall series last season. Finally, the Spirit will gain Jordan Baggett (neé DiBiasi) back for the 2022 season as she has been out with a hip injury since 2020. She appeared once in 2021 but only to be met with another setback. Baggett was drafted 3rd overall in the 2019 college draft. Although, the Spirit could be without veteran midfielder, Tori Huster, for the majority of the season as she is listed with a season-ending injury on the preseason roster after getting injured in the Spirit’s quarterfinal against the North Carolina last season.

The Spirit, known for drafting and building star young players, has re-signed the 2021 NWSL Rookie of Year and US Soccer Young Female Player of the Year, Trinity Rodman to a record-breaking $1 million, 4-year contract through 2024 with the option of 2025. Rodman appeared in 25 games last season while recording 7 goals.

Gaby Vincent is a new name for the Spirit this season as the team acquired her in a trade from Kansas City in the offseason. The defender from Columbia, Maryland will be returning home this season after two years with Utah/Kansas City.


What do I want to see?

For this squad, it is now about continued success. The NWSL is a very tough league with teams getting stronger and new teams joining, so it can be hard to have continued success. But the Spirit have broken through and are now one of five teams (three active) to have won the NWSL championship and it can be hoped that they will continue that success.

It will be exciting to hopefully sign and see the college draftees as well as see who from the six non-roster invitees will possibly be signed. Another piece of the puzzle for the Spirit will be World Cup qualifying. The NWSL does not follow the same FIFA breaks as other leagues do, leaving teams without their international players for extended amounts of time. The Spirit have had up to seven players called into USWNT camp this offseason and depending on how they perform this season, that may continue. Including other internationals in Karina Rodriguez for Mexico, Julia Roddar for Sweden, and Sydney Schneider for Jamaica, the Spirit may be left with a very depleted roster at times throughout this season meaning other players will need to step up and perform. It will be interesting to watch who steps up during these periods and just overall.

There is always a new breakout player every year and while guessing who it will be for the Spirit this year, it is going to be exciting to see if it will be another young player following the likes of Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman or if it will be a player that has been with the team and is starting to reach their top levels.




Full Preseason Roster

Goalkeepers: Aubrey Kingsbury, Devon Kerr, Sydney Schneider, Nicole Barnhart, Sam Murphy (NRI)


Defenders: Sam Staab, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Morgan Goff, Camryn Biegalski, Alia Martin, Gaby Vincent, Karina Rodriguez, Jordan Thompson (CDP-NRI), Natalie McNally (NRI), Amber Brooks (NRI)


Midfielders: Julia Roddar, Jordan Baggett, Andi Sullivan, Bayley Feist, Dorian Bailey, Anna Heilferty, Tori Huster (SEI), Taylor Aylmer, Jaedyn Shaw (NRI), Andrea Frerker (NRI), Emma Kershner (NRI), Alexis Mitchell (NRI), Eden Jacobsen (NRI)


Forwards: Trinity Rodman, Averie Collins, Ashley Sanchez, Kumi Yokoyama, Ashley Hatch, Tara McKeown, Tinaya Alexander (CDP-NRI), Lucy Shepherd (CDP-NRI), Audrey Harding (CDP-NRI)


Key:

CDP- 2022 NWSL college draft pick

NRI- Non-Roster Invitee

SEI- Season-Ending Injury


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