On Friday, the Washington Spirit will travel to BBVA Compass Stadium to face off against the Houston Dash in the first game of the 2015 NWSL season. Last season, the Spirit grabbed the last playoff spot but struggled defensively, conceding 43 goals (just one less than the last-place Houston Dash). Since head coach Mark Parsons joined the club (in July 2013), he has been involved with signing 26 players. With a fairly high turnover rate, here’s how the team will look this season:
Angela Salem – The defensive midfielder has played for a number of professional clubs including Sky Blue FC and Atlanta Beat (in the WPS), the Newcastle Jets (in the Australian W-League) and the Western New York Flash (in both the WPSL Elite and NWSL). Salem played an important role in the Flash’s successful 2013 season.
Estefania Banini – The Argentinian forward most recently played for Colo-Colo, a Chilean club, where she led the team to its ninth consecutive title. During the team’s championship match against Santiago Morning, Banini scored twice. During the Spirit’s three preseason matches, Banini scored two goals, had one assist and was one of the team’s most dangerous players on the field.
Estelle Johnson – After skipping the 2014 NWSL season, Johnson has returned to the NWSL, this time playing for the Washington Spirit. During the 2013 season, she played in all 22 regular season matches for the Western New York Flash in the team’s impressive run to the championship match. As a defender, Johnson was a key piece to the team’s nine total shutouts (eight during the regular season).
Katherine Reynolds – Like Johnson and Salem, Reynolds is joining the Spirit from the Western New York Flash. The defender played in 19 matches for the Flash last season and was instrumental in the Flash’s 2012 WPSL Elite title-winning squad. Reynolds has played alongside teammate Angela Salem for the Atlanta Beat (2011), Western New York Flash (2012-2014) and Newcastle Jets (2014). Now the two are teaming up again and the familiarity between the two could be beneficial for the Spirit.
Jodie Taylor – The forward played in 22 matches for the Spirit last season, leading the team with 11 goals. Along with her 11 goals, Taylor clocked in two assists and was named to the 2014 NWSL Second XI. The English international proved to be vital for the Spirit last season, with four of her 11 goals being game-winners. The Spirit traded Taylor to the Portland Thorns in a series of trades that saw Portland’s 2014 leading scorer, Jessica McDonald, traded to the Houston Dash.
Lori Lindsey – Lindsey has been with the Spirit since its inaugural season in 2013. In 43 matches with the team, the midfielder scored two goals. Though she wasn’t the most prolific scorer, her experience in the midfield will give this season’s team a very different look.
Overview of Last Season:
After struggling during the 2013 season (and finishing in last place—16 points behind the sixth place Chicago Red Stars), the remodeled 2014 team ended the season in fourth place and clinched the last playoff spot. The team went on a five-game undefeated streak from mid-May to early-June before two more undefeated streaks (late-June to mid-July and late-July to early-August). The team scored 36 goals, but let in 43, making them the only team in the top five with a negative goal differential. Though these figures have improved since the 2013 season (in which the team scored just 16 goals and let in 39), some key players will be missing during the Women’s World Cup, which could prove to be very detrimental to the team’s playoff hopes.
World Cup Impact:
Five players are expected to miss a large chunk of the season due to this summer’s Women’s World Cup: Ashlyn Harris (United States), Diana Matheson (Canada), Arianna Romero (Mexico), Ali Krieger (United States) and Veronica Perez (Mexico). It had been reported in January by Mexico coach Leo Cuellar that his players would not report to their NWSL teams until after the Pan-American Games (which end on July 26) if at all. This means that Perez and Romero will miss most—or all—of this season. Matheson was the Spirit’s second-highest scorer in 2014 (with eight goals) and will be a huge miss for the team. Harris, the team’s starting goalkeeper and Krieger, one of the team’s top defenders will also be huge misses for the team that struggled defensively last season.
Crystal Dunn is a possibility on the United States’ World Cup squad, but hasn’t seen much playing time under coach Jill Ellis. While World Cup experience would be great for the young player, Spirit fans may prefer to see the dynamic player spend her summer receiving ample playing time in the NWSL over sitting on a bench in Canada.