Last October, the Washington Spirit were seconds away from winning the NWSL Championship before a last-second goal and penalty kicks led to a crushing defeat. The Spirit’s offseason got worse from there. Washington lost most of its stars amid widespread reports of club-player conflict. In all likelihood, only three of the starters from October’s championship game will start against the North Carolina Courage on Saturday.
So what’s left of the Spirit? More than this offseason would indicate. Parts of the roster are sneaky good - namely the midfield - and there are a few attackers such as Francisca Ordega who could have a breakout season.
This is going to be a rough year for the Spirit, but a last-place finish isn't as certain as some are saying.
2016 Record: 12-5-3 (W-L-T), 39 points, +9 goal difference (30 goals for, 21 goals against)
2016 Playoffs: The Spirit beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in extra time in the Spirit’s first ever home playoff game. Washington was seconds from winning the title, only for the Western New York Flash to score a 124th minute equalizer before proceeding to win on penalty kicks
Key additions: Kristie Mewis (midfielder), Kassey Kallman (defender), Lindsay Agnew (winger/forward), Cameron Castleberry (defender/winger), Arielle Ship (attacker)
It’s also worth noting that Caprice Dydasco, Cali Farquharson, and Kelsey Wys will all miss the start of the season due to torn ACLs suffered last fall.
Projected starting XI: (4-3-3): Stephanie Labbe; Cameron Castleberry, Whitney Church, Shelina Zadorsky, Kassey Kallman; Tori Huster, Joanna Lohman, Kristie Mewis; Cheyna Williams, Katie Stengel, Arielle Ship
Dydasco and Ordega, once they recover from injuries, will likely push their way into that group (replacing Castleberry and Ship, most likely)
Major trophies won all-time: None as the Spirit, but in 2003 the Washington Freedom won the WUSA title.
What we think of our team: The losses this offseason are significant, but the players are a good, tight-knit group that boasts a blue-collar work ethic. This is going to be a rough year for the Spirit, but they’re not a shoe-in for last place.
It’s easy to dismiss this team as an NWSL bargain bin, but the reality is a bit more complex. Many players are hoping for a second chance or have something to prove. If the team channels an underdog mentality, the Spirit could be sneaky good.
Washington has never been the team to have tons of high-profile national team players. This year they have no marquee players, but that doesn’t guarantee a fall to the bottom of the table.
What outsiders think of our team:
Thinking about the Spirit, I feel something like the catharsis you're supposed to feel at the end of Oedipus Rex as you watch the protagonist gouge out his own eyes: horror and pity mixed with relief this epic roster purge isn't happening to my team.
None of us know exactly what happened with Washington, but it's pretty obvious things weren't going well behind the scenes. I feel for their fans and I expect them to finish near the bottom of the table.
Biggest Rival: This season, success.
In all seriousness, many Spirit fans carry a distaste for the North Carolina Courage (formerly Western New York Flash) for beating the Spirit in the final.
Best social media follow: Depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for constant sarcastic and self-deprecating jokes, follow Katie Stengel. If you’re looking for an eclectic feed of non-stop adventures, fan favorite Joanna Lohman (and Maryland native) is your best bet.
Our season hinges on...: Keeping morale high throughout the season and not having many more injuries than they’re entering the season with. If a couple players on the attacking side have breakout seasons, this team could become a mid-table squad.
Why this year won’t be like last year: It’s going to be much more difficult. The team has less talent, less experience, and just came through a brutal offseason complete with rumors of off-field trouble. Fan morale and expectations are low.
Key player: Tori Huster. Playing at the base of Washington’s midfield, Huster is a vital cog to the Spirit’s defense and often forces the turnovers that lead to the Spirit scoring. Huster is also an important player off the field, which will be an important element to the Spirit’s fate this season.
Predicted finish in 2017: 8th place
Wild prediction: The allocation order ranking spot will actually be useful. Mallory Pugh will say “Who needs a degree from a prestigious university? I want to play for the Washington Spirit!”