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Spirit news: Details on Ward’s dismissal, Emily Sonnett update, roster moves and free agency

A lot happening in the Spirit world

NWSL: Orlando Pride at Washington Spirit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There was a bit of a deluge of Spirit and NWSL news this week so André Carlisle, Jo Dabney and Annie Elliott are here to walk you through details on Kris Ward’s dismissal, who will coach in Houston this weekend, Emily Sonnett’s injury, roster moves, and NWSL free agency. Let’s get to it.

Mark Krikorian, President of Soccer Operations, on the dismissal of Kris Ward

Nearly three full days after the Washington Spirit’s eleven word tweet stating that Kris Ward had been ‘relieved of his duties as head coach’, Mark Krikorian, President of Soccer Operations, held a twelve-minute press conference to shed light on the decision. Krikorian confirmed reports of an incident at training between Ward and a player. Pablo Maurer of The Athletic reported that Ward ‘verbally confronted a player for their performance in a way some found inappropriate.’

Krikorian noted that though he was not at training, upon hearing of the incident he spoke with the players, the NWSL and the NWSLPA and determined that “a change was necessary.”

Though the severity of the incident is unclear, there are reports that video of the incident exist, and Krikorian noted that it’s up to the the NWSL and NWSLPA on whether there’s enough to launch an investigation.

Given results this season, it’s likely that Ward would not have remained coach in 2023, despite the hellacious early season schedule. However, it appears this incident accelerated his removal.

Krikorian also addressed the odd nature of the lone tweet and silence until his presser. “Making sure that everyone is included, and making sure that everyone’s rights are protected, and that we’re following the proper course of action,” Krikorian said. “Things unfortunately don’t happen quickly enough for [media], or all of us, or for our fans, to be able to be as transparent as we’d all like to be.”

✍️ -André Carlisle

So, who’s in charge now?

The Spirit are currently within a sixteen day break between games, with Ward being removed five days before the next match. During the presser, Krikorian stated that an interim coach had been identified but is undergoing the required background checks which won’t be completed before the Spirit take on Houston Dash this Saturday night.

Former player and first year assistant coach Angela Salem is leading first team training and will be the team’s coach against the Dash.

This time just one year ago Angela Salem was having an MVP-caliber year as an indispensable part of Portland’s midfield en route to securing their second NWSL Shield (most points accrued in the regular season). Salem’s retirement was a shock considering her high level of play and that she was just 33 at the time, but she shocked everyone even further by moving across the country to join Ward’s staff.

Before joining the Spirit’s front office, Mark Krikorian was a decorated coach at Florida State University. winning three NCAA Championships, that last of which in 2021. When asked if he contemplated stepping back in to coach he stated, with a chuckle, “Absolutely not...that was my previous life.”

✍️ -André Carlisle

Emily Sonnett update

Washington Spirit and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett has been placed on the Season-Ending Injury (SEI) list, as she proceeds to rehab a foot injury.

Sonnett made her last appearance with the Spirit on June 17 against Racing Louisville FC, and her last national team appearance July 14 versus Costa Rica in the CONCACAF W Championship. Sonnett, who was a key part of the Spirit’s stubborn defense en route to securing last year’s NWSL Championship, has struggled with injuries this season.

At the beginning of the season, Sonnett missed three matches in the Challenge Cup due to broken ribs, and is now being out for the season with a foot injury picked up during USWNT duty, and after 10 regular season matches played for the Spirit, totaling 842 minutes.

✍️ -Jo Dabney

Welcome (officially) Marissa Sheva and Audrey Harding

With the loss of Sonnett, the Spirit were freed up to add two previously short-term players, forward Audrey Harding and midfielder Marissa Sheva. Both players were signed to the active roster for the remaining 6 games of the season. Earlier this season, Sheva and Harding were signed as injury replacement players, but their last appearance on a gameday roster came as national team replacement players on July 17 — and both have continued to train with the team since.

Harding was the 38th overall pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft and has made 11 appearances with the Spirit, including 4 starts, throughout the 2022 regular season and Challenge Cup. Harding made her professional debut in the Spirit’s season opener (and only win of the season so far) against OL Reign on May 1, and earned an assist later that month on Trinity Rodman’s 19th-minute goal against Orlando Pride.

Sheva, who previously played for Utah Royals FC and Deportivo Alavés Gloriosas in Spain’s Primera División, debuted for the Spirit on June 4th against NJ/NY Gotham FC. She went on to serve an essential role when seven Spirit players were with the USWNT in Mexico for the CONCACAF W Championship. Sheva started all 3 Spirit matches during that time and went the full 90 twice.

✍️ -Annie Elliott

NWSL free agency is here (for some)!

The NWSL’s first-ever free agency period began at 12:01am today. That is a fact the NWSL and NWSLPA agree on, however there is disagreement on who’s eligible and who isn’t. This beginning phase of free agency, as negotiated in the historic collective bargaining agreement, states ‘Commencing with the 2023 League Season, Free Agency is available for any Player whose SPA [standard player agreement] is expiring and who has at least six (6) NWSL Service Years.’

The discrepancy between the NWSL and NWSLPA is whether a contractual club-held option year(s) should prevent a player with the requisite service from being eligible. The NWSL argues that a club option is part of a full contract agreement and these players would not be eligible unless their team decided not to exercise the option by November 15. Under these rules, 26 players would be eligible.

The NWSLPA has already filed a grievance (and is expecting to enter arbitration), stating that a player has fulfilled the terms of their contractual agreement when they’ve reached the end of their guaranteed years, and that a club option is a separate agreement. Under these rules, 47 players would be eligible.

However, the Spirit don’t have players caught in this tug-of-war. As such, Nicole Barnhart (GK), Amber Brooks (CB), Kelley O’Hara (FB) and Tori Huster (MF) officially became free agents at 12:01am.

✍️ -André Carlisle