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Six returning players sign with the Washington Spirit

Andi Sullivan, Ashley Hatch, Tori Huster, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Arielle Ship, and Mallory Eubanks are all coming back for 2019

Nikita Taparia

The Washington Spirit announced that they have reached deals to bring six players back for the 2019 season. Meggie Dougherty Howard, Mallory Eubanks, Ashley Hatch, Tori Huster, Arielle Ship and Andi Sullivan have all signed contracts with the club for 2019 after most of them had been out of contract following the 2018 season’s conclusion. Per NWSL policy, terms of the deals were not disclosed.

The deals collectively take the Spirit up to 15 players under contract for the upcoming season just days ahead of the beginning of preseason training. Dougherty Howard, Hatch, Huster, and Ship were all out of contract after last season, but their signings were expected.

Of that group, Hatch appears to be the clear favorite to be the Spirit’s starting forward. Huster also seems like a solid bet to be a starter, though as long as the Spirit are so short on defenders, there is a chance she ends up at center back rather than her customary defensive midfield role. Dougherty Howard may also emerge as a starter in an unnatural position, though her work appears to be cut out for her at right back due to the recent acquisition of Amy Harrison. Finally, Ship will be contending for minutes in multiple attacking positions, and at worst seems to be a frequently-used substitute to give the offense a jolt off the bench.

The announcements pertaining to Eubanks and Sullivan are a bit less straightforward, as both players had their options picked up back in October. That means that their existing contract at the time was extended into 2019, making today’s announcement potentially superfluous for both. We reached out to the Spirit for clarification, and will update this piece if we receive any updates.

In any case, Sullivan is another probable starter in central midfield, though she told B&RU after the recent USWNT game that the question of her exact role there hasn’t yet been sorted due to her national team obligations. Eubanks, meanwhile, could pop up on either wing or as a fullback, and much like Ship figures to get regular minutes in multiple positions.

Today’s moves leave the Spirit with three remaining players whose contract situations are awaiting resolution. Joanna Lohman, Cheyna Matthews, and Francisca Ordega were all extended contract offers at the same time that Eubanks, Sullivan, and several others had their contract options exercised in October (as we linked back to above). Signs point to Lohman and Matthews signing soon enough, but Ordega’s future with the club is quite murky due to ongoing rumors linking her to a move to the Chinese Women’s Super League.

As we mentioned earlier, today’s news takes the Spirit up to 15 players under contract, and that doesn’t count any of their five picks in the 2019 NWSL College Draft. If Lohman and Matthews do in fact sign, and all of those draft picks also sign (an open question after Washington ended up seeing several prized 2018 draft picks end up playing in Europe), the Spirit would have 22 players on their roster, which conveniently means a full squad under the NWSL’s new rules. They would have four open spots on their supplemental roster, which would consist of players who can train with the team and are paid, but who only join the active roster to replace players who are missing due to national team duty or long-term injuries.