Playing Parsons: How We Would Fill the Spirit's Gaps
It’s no secret that Washington Spirit head coach Mark Parsons adopted the philosophy of “make do with what you have” when considering how to best reconstruct the team after losing several key players in the offseason. Rather than finding or drafting new defenders, he converted forwards Tara McKeown and Maddie Elwell and midfielder Dorian Bailey to the backline. This suggests a potential lack of depth for the Spirit, which may become a serious problem come the World Cup in July. Today we, Savannah and Emma, would like to play Spirit coach for a minute and tell you who we would pick to patch up the holes.
Savannah: Princess Ibini, Sydney FC - If you’re not watching A-League Women in Australia, you’re missing out. Therefore I feel I must select Australian Princess Ibini, a player that has the positional awareness of Ashley Hatch and the sheer audacity of Ashley Sanchez. As shown in this goal, Ibini has the sheer savvy to always be in the right place at the right time:
Not to mention Ibini can make a goal appear out of thin air, finishing even the most unlikely of chances:
Washington needs experience. Ibini brings that with over 100 appearances for Sydney. Not to mention, Ibini played three seasons with Spirit captain Aubrey Kingsbury when Kingsbury played for Sydney in the NWSL off-season.
Ibini is a bubble player for the Matildas. If she gets quality minutes playing in high-level matches with the NWSL, it may give her an advantage when selection comes around post-World Cup.
Experience and chemistry are exactly what the Spirit need. Combine those attributes with a world-class forward, and Ibini’s your girl.
Emma: Mary Fowler, Manchester City: Is she on a four-year contract with City? The answer is yes. Does she get playing time? That answer is no and that’s where the Spirit come in. Fowler has been dubbed as the start of the next generation for Australia, making her senior team debut at only 15 years old in 2018. Since then, her game has grown greatly.
Already with a World Cup and Olympics under her belt at the age of 20, Fowler is one of the most experienced young players. Not only is she experienced, but she is also very talented. A speedy, crafty winger, Fowler has shown us her goal-scoring ability with the Matildas and during her years with Montpellier.
But she has struggled with finding playing time in a talented Manchester City squad. Fowler made her tenth appearance this season, all coming off the bench, in City’s 6-2 win over West Ham on Sunday, April 23, 2023. In just 19 minutes, she was able to make an impact, scoring City’s sixth and final goal of the game.
For Australia, they certainly don’t want to see a player such as Fowler sitting on the bench in the lead-up to a World Cup on their home turf. A move to Washington may seem crazy right now, but I truly think it could benefit Fowler, even if it is just a loan move. Washington would allow Fowler to get playing time as they look for someone to play opposite Trinity Rodman and match the speed and power Rodman presents on the pitch. Fowler fits that bill perfectly. Her experience, youth, and talent make her a perfect fit for this Spirit squad.
Emma: Dorian Bailey, Washington Spirit: Yes I know, but hear me out on this one. Dorian was drafted by the Spirit in 2019 and since then she has been an integral part of the team. In the 2021 and 2022 seasons, she was the “unsung hero” of the squad.
Playing a role similar to Andi Sullivan, Bailey’s efforts on both sides of the ball can not be looked past. A player that can distribute the ball with such precision and poise isn’t easy to find but Bailey brings that to the table in every game. In the 2020 Challenge Cup, Bailey completed every single pass she attempted in the Spirit’s final group stage game against the Houston Dash.
Bailey was one of the most important players in the Spirit’s run to their first championship in 2021. In some games, such as the championship against Chicago, she played in a deep-lying role next to Sullivan. In others, such as the quarterfinal against North Carolina and semifinal against the OL Reign, Bailey was found in a higher attacking role, at the center of the midfield triangle in the Spirit’s 4-2-3-1 formation. In these games, Taylor Alymer took the deeper role next to Sullivan, yet both positions worked for Bailey. She succeeded no matter where she was in the midfield.
This season, Parsons has transitioned Bailey to a right-back. For a player that isn’t nearly as fast as some forwards, this transition has been questioned by many fans, yet she continues to excel. But, bringing Bailey back into the Spirit’s midfield would bring stability in transition that the Spirit simply don’t have right now.
Savannah: I was going to suggest a midfielder, but frankly, I agree with Emma: Washington doesn’t need more midfielders. If Bailey goes back into her natural position as a midfielder, there now is competition and depth where there currently isn’t. At a given time, Washington could call upon Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez, Paige Metayer, Dorian Bailey, Tori Huster, and Bayley Feist when they are recovered. A true murderer’s row of excellent choices. Should Washington acquire another defender and create more depth in the backline, that creates much more depth in the midfield as well.
Emma: Camryn Biegalski, Washington Spirit: Yes, again, I know. Biegalski is yet to see minutes this season and Parsons is playing midfielders as defenders when she is right there. Biegalski, a Wisconsin product, was drafted by Chicago before eventually signing a National Team Replacement contract in April of 2021. She signed a full-team contract in May 2021.
Biegalski didn’t see much playing time in 2021 with Tegan McGrady, now with the Portland Thorns, in front of her; but as the 2022 season rolled around, McGrady was drafted by the San Diego Wave in the expansion draft, leaving an open spot on the Spirit’s backline. McGrady had played in every game of the Spirit’s playoff run in 2021 so Biegalski certainly had big shoes to fill.
She stepped up to the plate ready. Biegalski transitioned to a starting role with the Spirit in 2022 and proved her worth, game in and game out. She finished the season, as top three in the league in tackles in the final third, with 43, and top three in the league in tackles won, with 44.
She was solid across the board for the Spirit in 2022 and she could be again in 2023, given the chance. Adding Biegalski back into the backline would add both experience and a true defender. With an already young team as it is, converting young players to an unfamiliar position doesn’t always work as planned since it is uncomfortable for them. Having a true defender on the backline can never hurt a team.
Savannah: Maya Le Tissier, Manchester United: Adding Biegalski back into the mix would be a prudent choice. That being said, this article is about us playing coach, not being the coach, so I’m going to choose center-back Maya Le Tissier.
At 21 years old, Le Tissier may seem on the younger end, but she would fit perfectly into a team known for its youth. Despite her age, Le Tissier brings plenty of experience. She first played for Brighton and Hove Albion from 2018-2022. With the Seagulls Le Tissier became a rising star, winning Brighton Women's Young Player of the Season twice. She was also nominated for the PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year award in 2022.
Le Tissier turned the heads of many teams, but she ended up signing with Manchester United in 2022. She has been a dependable member of the squad, contributing two goals in addition to her stellar defensive work.
It’s no secret that the trade of Emily Sonnett left a gaping hole in the center-back role. A rotating cast of characters have tried to stake their claim to it, but it seems that nobody truly owns it. Converted forward Tara McKeown seems to have won the starting spot, but her lack of experience in the back is worrisome. Spirit stalwart Sam Staab needs a confident, consistent partner in the back. Le Tissier has the experience and the skill to be that person. Furthermore, should the Spirit acquire a real center back, this frees Tara McKeown to re-establish her dynamic chemistry with the trio of Hatch, Rodman, and Sanchez. Given her age, Le Tissier could truly grow into one of the world’s best center-backs if she decided to transfer to Washington.