After a disastrous 2018 season, everyone figured that change was coming for the Washington Spirit. As is often the case in the NWSL, things take time behind the scenes to shake out, and draft day signals the real start of business. That was exactly the case for the Spirit, who made five picks (including four of the first eight) and made a major trade in Chicago, then followed it up by signing a new player, and apparently saw the last of several other holdovers.
We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s proceed in chronological order:
Havana Solaun to Klepp Elite
This one is relatively old news, but it has never been officially confirmed by Washington. Midfielder Havana Solaun was offered a contract after last season ended, but per Klepp Elite’s own Facebook page, multiple Norwegian outlets, and Wilson Management Alliance’s (her agents) site, she’s opted to sign with Klepp this year.
When reached for comment before the NWSL draft, the Spirit declined to comment, citing the fact that Solaun was not a player under contract with the club. We reached out to Klepp for further comment, but did not get a response.
In any case, Solaun’s departure makes sense for her, as the Spirit will be starting Rose Lavelle as their #10 whenever she’s available, can still use Joanna Lohman as a back-up, and have drafted Jordan DiBiasi as well. Solaun made some appearances on the wing under Jim Gabarra, but it wasn’t a natural fit, and Washington is about six players deep on both flanks even with Solaun moving abroad.
Solaun’s time with the Spirit saw her make 37 appearances in two seasons, during which she scored 5 goals and added 5 assists (all but one assist coming in 2017).
Estefania Banini reportedly not returning
Steve Goff of the Washington Post has reported more than once that Estefania Banini, who was re-signed by the Spirit six weeks ago, is not coming back to the club after all. It is unclear exactly what went on here, though the timeline indicates that this may relate to the new coaching staff coming in after the decision to retain Banini was already made. At the draft, Burke indicated to media present that the club plans on bringing in two internationals, and if they retained Banini, the Spirit would have just one free international spot (the other is occupied by forward Francisca Ordega).
Banini’s time with the Spirit has had an on-again, off-again quality to it. She has posted farewell messages on social media twice, first after signing with Valencia after the 2016 season and again late this autumn before then reversing course and signing a new deal. Injuries and Argentina national team duty have also cost her some time at the Plex, and over the years she accumulated 52 appearances for the capital club. She scored 8 goals in that time, and won the NWSL Player of the Month in July 2016.
Currently, Banini is playing for Levante in the Spanish top flight, and per Goff she’s going to be playing in the Liga Primera for the foreseeable future.
Kelsey Wys waived
The Spirit spent all of 2018 with three goalkeepers, a major roster inefficiency in a league that only gave clubs 20 roster spots (mercifully, it’s now 22 plus 4 supplemental spots). They’ve addressed that with a vengeance in the past week, first sending DiDi Haracic to Sky Blue as part of the aforementioned draft-day trade, and now waiving Wys. Wys had requested the move to pursue a contract abroad.
Aubrey Bledsoe’s arrival made it very difficult for Wys to break through, and following the draft, new head coach Richie Burke cited the former as a potential leader for the team going forward. Wys also had bad luck with injuries, tearing her ACL on loan in Australia just weeks after starting in the 2016 NWSL Championship. That injury cost her all of 2017, and in 2018 she got just one start (a 2-0 home loss to the Chicago Red Stars). Her Spirit career ends with 24 regular season starts, plus two more in the 2016 playoffs.
The moves leave Bledsoe as the lone goalkeeper, so fans should expect at least one addition in that department in the near future.
Defender Megan Crosson has signed with the Spirit
In dire need of defensive players, Washington added Megan Crosson, who appeared in the 2018 season finale as one of the six National Team Replacement Players the Spirit had to call in due to their last game of the year falling during an international window. Crosson played left back in that 1-1 draw, and apparently did enough to make an impression on the organization.
Crosson was on the Houston Dash roster in 2016 (making 4 appearances as a left back) before embarking on an unusual path back to the NWSL. Crosson played in Japan’s Nadeshiko League with Speranza FC, who used her as a forward for some of her time there, before returning to Houston for the 2017 preseason. The Dash didn’t offer her a deal, prompting a move to UD Granadilla Tenerife in the Spanish top flight in August 2017. Most recently, she suited up for FC Gintra Universitetas in the Lithuanian league, getting some experience in the UEFA Champions League in the process.
At 5’9”, Crosson may be looked at as a possible center back for a Spirit team that is desperately short at the position. With Taylor Smith injured, Estelle Johnson and Caprice Dydasco now playing for Sky Blue, and both Whitney Church and Rebecca Quinn strongly linked to departures (we’ll get to that shortly), there appears to be plenty of room for newcomers to step into starting roles immediately.
Cheyna Matthews accepts Jamaica call-up
One 2018 absence that didn’t get enough attention for the Spirit was Cheyna Matthews, who missed the season while pregnant. Washington still offered her a new contract for 2019, and while there is no official confirmation that she has re-signed, it appears that she’ll be back and ready to go for the preseason. She’ll even get a chance to ramp things up early, as she has accepted a call-up to the Jamaican national team for the first time:
Our Reggae Girlz are ready first World Cup preparation camp from Jan 15-21, 2019 in Jamaica. Here is the Reggae Girlz Training Camp roster. #rooted2rise #reggaegirlzfoundation #jfflive #jff_football #reggaegirlz #cedellamarley #bobmarleyfoundation #alacranfoundation #tallawatv pic.twitter.com/KC9YSyWvDy— Reggae Girlz Foundation (@Reggae_Girlz_F) January 15, 2019
Matthews qualifies for Jamaica through a parent, and it would not be a surprise to see her play a major factor for the Reggae Girlz, who surprised Concacaf and the world by qualifying for France 2019 back in October. Matthews is joined by a former Spirit teammate in Solaun, as well as Chinyelu Asher, who trained extensively with the club in 2018 and played for the Spirit Reserves.
In 2017, Matthews scored 5 goals, adding speed and dribbling ability to the attack, and her dynamism was badly missed in 2018. Getting her back to her best could be like adding a brand new player, though if she does end up joining Jamaica’s World Cup squad, she would miss a substantial portion of the 2019 season.
Rebecca Quinn and Whitney Church reportedly on the way out
Goff’s recent reporting included news today that Quinn, a center back/defensive midfielder for Canada, is going to sign with Paris FC in France:
Washington would retain Quinn's NWSL rights— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) January 16, 2019
D Whitney Church probably on way to Houston
Spirit in serious talks about adding 2 World Cup-bound Australians
Also pursuing Americans and others currently playing abroad
Team officials won't comment on potential moves
If the report turns out to be true, the NWSL would collect a transfer fee in the exchange, while the Spirit would lose a Federation Player. That means losing someone whose salary was covered by their national team (in this case, Canada), which may impact Washington’s flexibility within the salary cap.
Quinn was a highly touted rookie that the Spirit picked up with the 3rd overall pick in last year’s draft, but like most of the rest of the team struggled throughout the 2018 season. It was never entirely clear what role Jim Gabarra had in mind for her, and redundancies at the positions she has played in the past added to some apparent confusion in games. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity for the Spirit, as Quinn is a regular starter for one of the world’s best national teams who routinely looks good for Canada.
Church, meanwhile, has been a regular starter over the past two seasons at center back, one of the positions Washington clearly needed to add players at. While Church’s viability as a starter in a league full of fast forwards is suspect, trading her to the Dash (along with losing Quinn) would leave Washington in further need of defensive additions. Losing this pair after trading Estelle Johnson and Caprice Dydasco away would mean that even after drafting two defenders and signing another, they’d actually have fewer defensive players than they started the year with.
Hey, what about those Aussies?
Let’s finish up with some speculation. Goff has mentioned that the Spirit are pursuing two Australian internationals who would be in the Matildas squad for the World Cup, and the Spirit did little to tamp that rumor down. Speaking to media present after the draft, new coach Richie Burke referred to “a couple of international players coming on board with us” and missing “three, four, five with a couple internationals we’re bringing on” players during this summer’s tournament.
We have no information about who these two players are going to be, but a quick comparison of the Spirit roster and the Matilas squad indicates some moves that make sense.
Laura Alleway, a 5’10” center back with 57 caps, would certainly meet some needs. The Spirit need defenders, as we’ve said repeatedly, but they’re also a very young team that could use experience. At 29, Alleway would fit the bill, and she’s played in NWSL before with Orlando.
Larissa Crummer would make another possible target at center back, though she is a significantly higher risk. Crummer has largely been a striker, but has more recently been looked at by both Australia and her clubs as a potential center back. Crummer is an outstanding athlete, but doesn’t have Alleway’s experience at the back.
Another experienced option would be versatile midfielder Tameka Butt. A natural defensive midfielder, Butt has spent time as a forward this season with Melbourne City, but here she would be a major competitor for Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Joanna Lohman in the heart of the midfield (especially if Dougherty Howard ends up seeing time as a fullback).