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Washington Spirit trade Kumi Yokoyama to NJ/NY Gotham FC

A club favorite is moving north after making an impact on and off the field with the Spirit

Kelley Piper / Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit have traded forward Kumi Yokoyama to NJ/NY Gotham FC, with the 28-year-old Japanese international going to New Jersey in exchange for Gotham’s natural 4th round draft pick in next year’s NWSL College Draft.

“Kumi came to us and we had a conversation about doing what was best for their future. Kumi has been an incredible human to have in our club and they will be greatly missed,” said Spirit head coach Kris Ward in a team statement announcing the move. “While it is always tough to part with a player, we understood that Kumi wanted to do what was best for their career moving forward and we honored that.”

On the field, Yokoyama made 12 regular season appearances (5 starts), along with 8 appearances (6 starts) in Challenge Cup play. They started all four of the team’s 2020 Fall Series matches, scoring the team’s Goal of the Year in a 1-0 win over what was at the time Sky Blue FC.

However, it would be safe to say Yokoyama’s influence off the field was immense. Beyond being a universally well-liked presence throughout their time with the club, Yokoyama came out as transgender in mid-June 2021, the second NWSL player and first in DC pro soccer history to do so. Their announcement made waves throughout women’s soccer, in particular breaking new ground in Japan and even being recognized by President Joe Biden on Twitter. Yokoyama, along with Saori Takarada, also increased links between the Spirit and the Japanese Embassy. Last year, the team unveiled a cherry blossom statue that sits outside Audi Field to commemorate that connection.

Still, Yokoyama’s path to playing time this year on a team that won a championship playing a more vertical style than in years past figured to be difficult. The Spirit front line was tough to break into last year, and with Averie Collins and Bayley Feist returning from torn ACLs, there’s even more of a crowd vying for minutes. Even after trading Yokoyama, the Spirit have seven players who figure to see much of their playing time up front, plus three draft picks and the option of some unconventional in-game shifts (e.g. Kelley O’Hara moving up the flank while the Spirit defended a lead, as we saw happen twice last season)

The move leaves the Spirit with 25 players under contract, but only 24 that count towards the roster at the moment. Tori Huster does not occupy a roster spot due to her Season-Ending Injury designation (though notably, the Spirit can put her back onto the active roster later this year, as “Season-Ending” does not actually mean season-ending for NWSL roster purposes).

Yokoyama’s departure also opens up an international roster spot, leaving Washington with three available. Julia Roddar is the club’s lone international at this point. Having drafted two players (Tinaya Alexander and Lucy Shepherd) that would require such a spot, we may have a hint that both are on course to secure a full contract later in the preseason.