The Washington Spirit began their first-ever preseason as NWSL champions today, with the team announcing a 38-player training camp roster. The massive group includes four of the club’s five picks from this year’s College Draft, as well as eight non-roster invitees who are effectively trying out for a roster spot.
The remaining 26 players are under contract, a number that went up one yesterday after the club announced that they’d signed veteran goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. However, of those 26, one — team leader and Spirit original Tori Huster — is still working to overcome a torn achilles tendon suffered in the playoffs last year, and is starting the season with a Season-Ending Injury designation.
With the full NWSL roster rules yet to be announced, it is unknown how many contracts the Spirit actually have to offer their draft picks and trialists. Last year, teams could carry 28 players, and factoring in that Huster will not occupy a roster spot while she has the SEI designation, that leaves precious few spots available for the 12 players in camp who aren’t already on the team.
The roster announcement offered several other pieces of news for Washington. Marriages have resulted in two player name changes: Aubrey Bledsoe is now Aubrey Kingsbury, while Jordan DiBiasi will now be Jordan Baggett. Second-round draft pick Maddie Elwell, a prospect to add depth at left back after the Spirit traded Tegan McGrady for expansion draft protection, will finish up the spring semester at Vanderbilt, and thus is not part of the preseason squad.
The Spirit’s list of trialists is an intriguing mix, with some serious NWSL experience mixed in with undrafted college prospects and one current US under-17 national team player. On the experience side, NWSL veteran Amber Brooks will be vying for a spot in either central defense or defensive midfield. Brooks, 31, has spent most of her pro career with the Houston Dash, but has also played for the Portland Thorns and has two different stints with OL Reign, including last year. She’s appeared in over 130 NWSL matches, as well as two spells with Bayern Munich in the Frauen Bundesliga and A-League Women side Adelaide United.
The other established pro invited to camp is Samantha Murphy. who has spent the last three NWSL seasons with the North Carolina Courage, making two appearances while backing up Stephanie Labbé and Casey Murphy. Interestingly, Murphy has been a non-roster invitee with the Spirit before; in 2019 her name was on both NC and Washington’s preseason rosters, before she eventually spent the preseason with the Courage, landing a contract. The 5’11” Murphy time at the University of North Carolina included one trip to the College Cup final in 2018, a season in which she emerged as the Tarheels’ starter.
Perhaps the most intriguing name among the trialists is US under-17 national team midfielder Jaedyn Shaw. Shaw, 17, plays for Texas club soccer power Solar SC, and last year was rated as Top Drawer Soccer’s #1 national prospect for the high school class of 2023. Given Shaw’s age, her preseason trial may be less about offering a contract in the next few weeks and more about laying the groundwork for an elite youth player to join the club via a similar process that Portland used to sign Olivia Moultrie last year.
The Spirit’s crop of undrafted college players is almost entirely concentrated in the midfield. Illinois native Andrea Frerker started all but one game for the SIU Evansville Cougars, posting 11 goals and 13 assists in five collegiate seasons, including 7 assists in 18 games this past year, a season that saw her named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Utah Utes midfielder Eden Jacobsen was a starter in four of her five collegiate seasons, but that’s only half of the story. Jacobsen sat out the 2018 NCAA season during a one-year Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mission, and missed another after an elbow injury forced her to redshirt in 2019. Despite the time away from the game, Jacobsen stepped right back in as a first-choice player for Utah in the last two years, and finished her career with 7 goals and 5 assists in 93 appearances (76 starts).
Centreville, VA native Emma Kershner split her collegiate career between Indiana and Virginia Commonwealth. After playing with FC Virginia’s ECNL team, Kershner joined the Hoosiers, redshirting as a freshman before being an oft-used substitute in 2017. Transferring to VCU, Kershner moved from the backline and into the midfield, posting 17 goals and 14 assists in 67 appearances (56 starts) for the Rams over the next four collegiate seasons. She was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Conference First Team in each of the last two years, and was the A10 Midfielder of the Year in 2021.
Alexis Mitchell appeared in 89 games (85 starts) with the University of South Dakota Coyotes, serving as captain at a program that improved from 4W-0D-13L in her freshman year to a 10W-4D-4L 2021 that saw them finish in 2nd place in the Summit League. Mitchell scored 20 goals and added 13 assists with South Dakota, including 19g/10a in her last three seasons.
The lone defender from the undrafted college group is Natalie McNally, a 5’10” center back who spent four seasons with the IUPUI Jaguars before transferring to Western Carolina as a grad student in 2021. At IUPUI, McNally started in every game they played during her time there, adding up to 71 appearances. She posted 4 goals and 4 assists, and was named to the All-Horizon League First Team in 2020. She used her final year of eligibility at Western Carolina, where she was the team captain and again started in every single game the team played en route to being named to the All-Southern Conference First Team.
Washington has not yet provided a preseason schedule, though the 2022 Challenge Cup begins in just under seven weeks. The Spirit will train indoors during this first leg of preseason at The St. James — a massive fitness facility in Springfield that was significantly linked to the Todd Boehly/Jennifer Tepper Mackesy bid to buy the team that, after a recent decision from the NWSL Board of Governors appears unlikely to pan out — before reportedly heading to Florida’s IMG Academy for a warm-weather camp.