The Washington Spirit announced today that they had re-signed attacker Estefania Banini for the 2019 NWSL season. Terms were not disclosed, but the move will keep Argentina’s captain in town for at least one more season, and adds to the number of Spirit players who are in all likelihood going to participate in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
In her four prior seasons with the Spirit, Banini has appeared 52 times, scoring 8 goals and taking the NWSL Player of the Month in July 2016.
It had previously appeared that the 28 year old was moving on from the Spirit. A few weeks after last season ended, Banini posted what appeared to be a farewell message to her Instagram page:
Since then, Banini has been playing for Levante UD in Spain’s Liga Femenina Iberdrola. The Spirit press release today clarified that this was a loan for the offseason, a common practice throughout the NWSL. With the changes to the league’s schedule for 2019 pushing the start of preseason back into March, Banini could play for Levante until the end of February without missing any time with Washington. Previously, Banini had spent an offseason out of contract with the Spirit in Spain, playing for Valencia, before re-signing with Washington after the 2016=2017 Spanish season ended.
The attack-heavy Spirit roster has thirteen different players who spent time last season playing either as an attacking midfielder or wide forward, which are Banini’s best positions. However, many of those were down to injury-related shortages or moves made in an attempt to shake up an attack that suffered through a dire 2018. While the central playmaking role is likely to go to Rose Lavelle regardless of how Washington lines up next season, Banini will still have a very good chance of garnering regular minutes drifting in from the wing.
Banini, Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Rebecca Quinn, and Francisca Ordega are all regulars for national teams that have qualified for France 2019, which could leave the Spirit short-handed during the summer. However, with rosters set to expand to some unknown degree and changes last year to make sure national team replacement players are paid, Washington should be able to navigate the summer with no more difficulty than other clubs around the league.
If the entire contingent of Spirit players who were offered new contracts re-sign, the club would have 22 players under contract for 2019, including two internationals (which would mean having one international spot open for a new acquisition). Having drafted several players who signed elsewhere last season, we could see a very competitive preseason even with larger rosters in place.