Hours before the official start of the NWSL preseason, the Washington Spirit have announced the signing of former USWNT goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. Barnhart, who spent 2022 with the Kansas City Current, is on a one-year deal with the Spirit. Further terms were not announced.
“We are excited to bring Barnie into the Spirit family,” Spirit head coach Kris Ward said in a team press release. “She has proven quality both in goal and as a person and is exactly the kind of person we want in our locker room. Given the challenges that are upcoming, we felt like it was vital to add someone of her caliber.”
Barnhart, 40, made eight total appearances for Kansas City last season, with six coming in the regular season and two more in the Challenge Cup. Her NWSL career began with FC Kansas City in 2013, and she stayed with them even when the club was dissolved and reconstituted as Utah Royals FC in 2018. Barnhart then followed the squad back to KC after NWSL relocated the club — who were named Kansas City NWSL for almost all of 2021 — in the aftermath of Dell Loy Hansen being stripped of ownership of his various professional soccer clubs.
In those years, Barnhart stacked up 146 regular season appearances, winning two NWSL championships and being named the first-ever NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013. She was released mid-season by Kansas City last year, as Abby Smith emerged as the starter after the two jockeyed for the job from preseason onward. Additionally, Barnhart played for FC Gold Pride and the Philadelphia Independence in WPS, winning the 2010 title with the former as a regular starter. With the USWNT, she collected 54 caps, winning Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012.
Barnhart is the fourth goalkeeper under contract with the Spirit, joining projected starter Aubrey Kingsbury (née Bledsoe), Devon Kerr, and Sydney Schneider. While carrying a fourth keeper is not normal procedure for NWSL clubs, the international calendar points to Washington having a good reason to look for depth now. Kingsbury, who was just in USWNT camp, will be pushing to make Vlatko Andonovski’s roster for World Cup qualifying later this year, while Schneider — who has been called in by Jamaica consistently for several years now — will almost certainly be departing for international duty multiple times in 2022.
That would leave Kerr as the team’s lone goalkeeper during those international windows. While National Team Replacement Players have in the past been the answer for this particular problem, the ongoing NWSL Collective Bargaining Agreement could possibly do away with those temporary contract types. If that’s the case, securing a fourth goalkeeper now allows the team to have serious, experienced competition in place even if they lose two players at the position to national team duty.
Adding Barnhart brings the Spirit up to 26 players under contract, a number that does not include any 2022 draft picks. Until the CBA is completely settled, it’s not known exactly how many roster spots the Spirit will have in total, but in 2021 NWSL squads could carry a maximum of 28 players. With reports that CBA talks have made serious progress ahead of the official start of preseason, there may be more clarity on that front shortly.