After two offseasons of turnover, this offseason was rather quiet for the Washington Spirit. The two-time semifinalists return almost three-quarters of the 2015 squad that finished in fourth place. However, the offseason didn't start quietly for the Spirit. In October, head coach Mark Parsons left DC to become head coach of the Portland Thorns. Within weeks, the Spirit hired Jim Gabarra the former Sky Blue FC and Washington Freedom head coach.
2015 record: 8-6-6, 4th place league-wide
2015 playoffs: Lost to the Seattle Reign in the semifinals 3-0
Key Additions: Katie Stengel, 24-year old forward previously with Bayern Munich; Stephanie Labbe, Canadian international goalkeeper, and draft picks Cali Farquharson and Cheyna Williams, both forwards
Key Departures: Ashlyn Harris, three-year Spirit goalkeeper taken in expansion draft by the Orlando Pride; Amanda DaCosta, midfielder traded to Chicago Red Stars, and Angela Salem, midfielder traded to Boston Breakers
Projected/ideal Starting XI: Kelsey Wys; Ali Krieger, Megan Oyster, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssa Kleiner; Tori Huster, Diana Matheson, Christine Nairn; Crystal Dunn, Katie Stengel, Cheyna Williams
Overview of the Spirit: The Spirit are strong contenders for a playoff spot this year. Crystal Dunn, reigning NWSL MVP, scored 15 goals for the Spirit last year and will have more help up top this year with the additions of Stengel and Williams. Five Spirit players will likely miss time this summer due to the Olympics but the Olympic break will help ease the Spirit's dependence on these internationals. Defense is rocky and the Spirit will need to improve from the shaky defense that has plagued them the past three seasons. Kelsey Wys and Labbe will compete for the starting goalkeeper spot after neither of them has particularly shown well this preseason. The team will also need to improve on the road after going 2-3-5 last year.
Why you should watch: The Spirit are an exciting, attacking team who can pull a win from behind. Dunn, Nairn, and Stengel add flair and firepower to the attack and Oyster and Huster bolster the team's defense. If you enjoyed the Women's World Cup last summer, the Spirit are your chance to see these players play locally.
3 players to watch: Look for Crystal Dunn to continue her incredible 2015 season with a stronger attack this season. Dunn scored 15 goals for the Spirit and often in dramatic fashion. Last year Dunn scored six game winning goals and when Dunn has the ball she can reign terror on any backline. Diana Matheson, a Canadian international maybe 5-foot-1 but she's no small prescence in the midfield. Look for Matheson to intiate great passing combinations out of the midfield and her tireless work ethic is admirable. If Carli Lloyd's goal from half-field in the World Cup was your thing, watch out for Christine Nairn. Nairn scored five goals for the Spirit last year, usually from long-range free kicks. Give Nairn any space, even if she's thirty yards out, and she'll take advantage.
The 2016 season will be a success if... The Spirit devlop chemistry on attack and don't miss a beat during Dunn's absence. If the Spirit improve on defense and on the road, a playoff berth is in sight.