The Washington Spirit have made their first move of 2022, transferring Japanese international Saori Takarada to Swedish club Linköping FC. No terms were announced by either club, but B&RU has been told by the Spirit that they received “a small fee” in the exchange.
Takarada ended up making 13 total appearances with the Spirit in 2021, split between three Challenge Cup starts, two substitute appearances in the playoffs, and eight regular season appearances (six starts). She was unavailable for nine total matches due to international call-ups with Japan, including a nearly two-month window during the Olympics.
Losing Takarada’s versatility — she could capably play eight different positions in their typical 433 formation, as well as seeming comfortable during the preseason as part of a back three or as a wingback — will be hard for the Spirit to replace. However, Washington has made additions in positions Takarada can play: Alia Martin is a center back, while Gaby Vincent can play center back or defensive midfield (freeing others to spend time in the no. 8 role that Takarada sometimes played).
During the college draft, that trend continued. Tinaya Alexander would add attacking depth on the right wing, while Madison Elwell could see time as a left back or left forward. Lucy Shepherd and Audrey Harding also project as depth on the front line, while Jordan Thompson does the same at the back.
While the Spirit still have to sign all five draft picks, they would add to a team that has significant depth all over the field. Before the offseason additions, Takarada was competing with Camryn Biegalski to be Kelley O’Hara’s understudy, with similar scenarios playing out at center back with Karina Rodríguez, Taylor Aylmer in central midfield, and both Bayley Feist and Kumi Yokoyama as a wide forward. Most pointedly, the Spirit appeared to settle on Anna Heilferty as a Swiss Army Knife, with the rookie often the first or second player off the bench under Kris Ward in nearly all of the positions Takarada had played this year.
Takarada’s departure leaves the Spirit with Yokoyama and Julia Roddar as their two internationals, which means they have two open international spots. Alexander and Shepherd, who both hail from England, would require an international spot if they sign contracts. NWSL teams were given a fifth spot heading into this season, but Washington traded theirs for one year to San Diego in the deal that got them expansion draft protection.