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Washington Spirit remove interim tag, name Kris Ward as head coach

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Turns out that when you’re an interim head coach, winning it all is a good way to get the gig on a permanent basis

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Nikita Taparia

The Washington Spirit made it official today, announcing that Kris Ward is now the club’s head coach on a permanent basis. Ward, who stepped in after Richie Burke was suspended and eventually dismissed in the aftermath of allegations of abuse, helped a Spirit side rocked by a wide variety of crises to settle into an incredible late-season run that ended with the club’s first-ever NWSL title.

Under Ward, the Spirit’s official record in regular season play and in the postseason is 9W-3D-2L, with those losses both coming via forfeits due to Covid-19 protocol breaches. Washington did not lose a game that they actually kicked off, and won all of their final seven games, culminating in a 2-1 extra time victory over the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL Championship.

In a team release, Ward said “I’m very excited to be continuing as the head coach here in Washington. We’re building something special with this club and I’m honored to continue to be a part of it.”

Ward’s coaching career involves a wide range of levels and roles, including youth soccer, assistant coaching positions at pro clubs (including the Spirit in 2013 and the WPS version of the Washington Freedom), and scouting in MLS. Ward re-joined the club as an assistant in the back half of the 2020 season shortly after the Spirit said former assistant coach Tom Torres had left to pursue other opportunities. Reporting from The Athletic this year cited multiple sources saying that Torres’ departure was related to inappropriate comments towards players at a team party.

Despite entering an offseason containing an expansion draft and the earliest college draft in league history, sources close to the team have told Black and Red United that Ward was involved in roster decisions, the team’s protected list, and their picks in the draft. Ward was one of six NWSL head coaches to speak to media during the virtual mixed zone NWSL set up during the college draft.

“Kris guided this team through a turbulent season that ultimately led to our club’s first championship win,” said Spirit President Ben Olsen in the team’s release. “When you look at his record, it’s clear that he’s earned this. But more than that, he has helped to foster a positive environment for the players. We are very excited to keep him with us and look forward to the 2022 season.”

Washington’s coaching staff to finish the 2021 season included Paul Crichton, Lee Nguyen, and Annie Worden. Crichton, the club’s goalkeeping coach, signed a deal through the end of 2022 this past spring. Nguyen and Worden’s status remains unsettled, though sources have told B&RU that the team is strongly interested in retaining both.