The Washington Spirit have completed their first two weeks of preseason training, with seven still to go before NWSL opening weekend. Head coach Mark Parsons and goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury spoke with the media Friday afternoon about new players, the medical and performance system, and how things are going so far. Here are some of the highlights:
On a new start
After two years of revelations of abuse and misconduct toward players both on this team and throughout the league, Kingsbury’s opening comment spoke volumes about the status of the Spirit: “I’ve never felt so supported in my professional career.”
Kingsbury praised Y. Michele Kang, Mark Krikorian, and Dawn Scott for changes they’ve implemented over the offseason to improve the player experience.
Among the changes they made was hiring Parsons, who Kingsbury said is starting by “building a strong culture of respect where we all value each other.” She said his style of “laying the building blocks [of his game plan] slowly but purposefully” is a bit of a contrast to the players who want to dive right back in, but “it keeps us hungry for more.”
On the evolving roster
When asked about the shortage of center-backs on the current roster, Parsons revealed that there were two players who’ve previously played in other positions who he sees as a fullback and center-back. However, he admitted that the center-back transition project has been slowed because the player is “not fully ready to train.”
“We feel very confident that we have enough quantity, although that may be difficult to see at the moment,” he said. Parsons also raised the possibility of “one or two announcements soon” of potential new signings, although he hinted they may not necessarily be defensive players.
Parsons also complimented the performance of new draft picks and invitees, saying they were working well with the team and putting pressure on returning players to perform and earn their starting spots.
Kingsbury echoed Parsons’s approval of the new players, although she joked that high turnover was nothing new for Washington. She credited the staff for making sure that their introduction to the team wasn’t entirely on her shoulders and those of other veteran players.
“I’m not sure what our roster will look like, and I’m excited about that,” Kingsbury said. “I know we’ll be a lot more organized and cohesive than last year.”
The Dawn Scott Effect
Over this offseason, the Spirit have added a bevy of new performance and support staff members, including Vice President of Performance, Medical and Innovation Dawn Scott, with the goal of improving player health and performance.
“Her big philosophy is to train women as women,” Kingsbury said. Scott and her team have begun training the players on aspects of women’s health like the impact the menstrual cycle can have on recovery and performance and have done “extensive physical testing” to collect data and develop individual training plans for each player.
Meetings. Train. Repeat. pic.twitter.com/Rj7yfzqxEB— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 25, 2023
Parsons was also excited about the team’s emphasis on individualized care for health and fitness.
“I’ve had good people around me before.... This is another level,” Parsons said of Scott and other Spirit staff, “I’m like a kid in a candy store.” He added, “The standard can’t be what has been done in women’s soccer before, because that’s not good enough.”
On contract extensions
Over the past few weeks, the Spirit have signed several players on existing contracts to extended ones, which Parsons said was key to the stability of the team and his plans going forward.
“The fact that we have such special core players across different lines [made the decision to come to Washington] very easy for me,” he said, adding that his focus is now on developing those players to help bring the best out of them.
Kingsbury, whose contract extension was announced earlier this week, would have been eligible for free agency after the 2023 season and said she considered whether to take that opportunity, but ultimately decided that she wants to remain with the Spirit. She cited the level of care the team has shown for players in this offseason as a major factor, saying she’s never experienced this anywhere else.
“I think the Washington Spirit will be the best place to go as a player if you want to improve,” she said.
Despite the increased medical staff, some injury issues persist.
Midfielder Tori Huster, who sat out the entirety of the 2022 season with an Achilles injury, is back on the pitch but not fully integrated into team training yet, Parsons said. He couldn’t give a precise timeline for Huster’s return but noted that she’s making progress. He also stated that her recovery would be some of the first evidence of the strength of the Spirit’s medical program.
Parsons expressed his excitement about reuniting with Huster, who he worked with during his previous employment with the Spirit from 2013-2015, and said the team would be “in a better position” when she’s ready to return.
Recent draft pick Delaney Graham has not yet joined the team for training after having knee surgery the day of the draft. Parsons said that Graham is rehabbing and hopes to bring her into camp in the next month or so.
Parsons did not offer further specifics on injuries but mentioned that five players sat out a training game on Friday due to injury, although he labeled it as “not major stuff.” He said he was hopeful that all will be healthy and able to participate in team training soon.
“I’m not someone who wants players on the pitch too early,” Parsons said. “I want them back when they’re ready.... We’re taking our time.”