* = confirmed signed for 2015
(parentheses) = Potentially absent for Women’s World Cup
In A Nutshell:
When the Spirit have all of their personnel, they look like a pretty formidable side. They’ve got the ability to bomb forward from the defense, a great keeper, and some solid pieces in the middle of the park. But they aren’t going to have their top personnel for much of the season. The defense is shaky, to say the least, without the club’s national team players, especially on the flanks. If Kerstin Garefrekes doesn’t return, the club is dangerously short on guile in midfield besides Christine Nairn and Amanda Da Costa unless the club makes a risky move to throw Ali Krieger or Crystal Dunn into midfield. And the frontline could collapse like a house of cards if Natasha Harding doesn’t adapt quickly. The Spirit really need more than a single draft pick, but they’ll have to make do.
Biggest Needs: LB, CF, WG, CB, backup GK
GK – (Harris), (Williams), *Wys
As is the case with FC Kansas City and Boston, Washington will probably be sweating out the months leading up to the WWC and the possibility of losing starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris for an extended period of time. Likely battling with two others for two USWNT roster spots, Harris’ absence would be a serious blow to the Spirit’s playoff hopes. Unlike the other clubs mentioned above though, the Spirit have taken proactive steps to fortify the position in hopes of having a solid backup plan in the event of Harris’ absence.
Chantel Jones probably took a step backwards last season, and the Spirit made an intriguing switch in trading for WNY’s Kelsey Wys. Wys began as backup last season but ended up starting a giant chunk of the season after injuries struck down AD Franch and Lydia Williams. While Wys may struggle to be a full-time #1 at the moment, she’s a tested option in goal and probably wouldn’t be out of her depth if Harris is absent.
Oddly, the club claimed Wys’ WNY teammate from last season, Lydia Williams on waivers. It doesn’t make much sense on paper given Williams’ likely absence herself with Australia this Summer, and it’d be a surprise to see her in Spirit colors this season.
DEF – (Dunn), (Krieger), Pressley, Singer, *Reynolds, (Romero)
The Spirit have a ton of options…it’s just that a good many of them may be at the Women’s World Cup. Washington entered the offseason with two sure things for Women’s World Cup rosters. Somewhat surprisingly, the club chose to trade for Ari Romero, giving up Niki Cross in the process. The trade was odd, not just in that Romero is also likely to be missing for the WWC, but that she plays the same position as Ali Krieger. It could signify a move for Krieger, perhaps into a proactive midfield role, or even to center-back. Crystal Dunn seems best suited for left-back at this level, especially given some of the options in attack now.
What exactly the club plans to do when all the WWC bound players are gone is anybody’s guess. Toni Pressley looks to be a lock at one of the center-back spots but does not seem ready to be the leader of a defense yet and was guilty of some very uneven displays last season. Tori Huster may be needed at center-back in the meantime with absences, a move that could be made easier by the glut of defensive midfielders now on the roster. Alex Singer is another option at center-back, though she’s another that has yet to be totally convincing during her short span with the club thus far.
The only other defensive acquisition besides Romero was Katherine Reynolds, who arrived in a trade with WNY. She is, yet another, right-back, though she also can play in the middle. The former looks more likely at the beginning of the season, though you wonder what the club will do with her once Krieger and Romero are back.
The lack of left-back cover for Dunn is seriously worrying. It’s more worrying if the club does plan to play Dunn further up the pitch when she’s not on USWNT duty. There’s also the reality that the club is missing a truly elite center-back. It could make for some uncomfortable watching when the top players are away on international duty if the Spirit can’t shore the backline up.
MF – Garefrekes, *Huster, *Nairn, (Perez), Lohman, *Salem, *Da Costa
On paper, the Spirit’s midfielder looks more about perspiration than inspiration with a glut of defensive midfielders currently on the club’s books. The likely absence of Diana Matheson as she recovers from an ACL injury could be a brutal one. The decision to claim Joanna Lohman on waivers was a puzzling one, with the veteran midfielder looking to be near the end of the line with Boston last season. It’s made all the more odd by the club having already acquired Angela Salem via trade with WNY. Salem herself was far from her best with the Flash last season, and the Spirit will be hoping a fresh start can invigorate her once more. Tori Huster has excelled both as a defensive midfielder and as a center-back, but she’ll probably be needed on the backline once the WWC attrition hits. Veronica Perez can fit either attacking or defensive roles in midfield but seems to be more of the latter here, though she’ll also be gone for the WWC.
The addition of Amanda Da Costa could be an astute one, after the former Florida State player put in a very effective shift for Liverpool the past few seasons. A Da Costa partnership with Christine Nairn could prove very effective indeed if the latter keeps developing. Nairn showed why the club should’ve picked her when they had a chance in the 2013 draft with a nice season and will need to shoulder more of the offensive load come WWC time.
Kerstin Garefrekes is a wild card. The German was a solid if unspectacular addition midseason last year but is in her mid-thirties and may not be back from Frankfurt this Summer. Regardless, the club probably needs another option or two in the attacking midfield to help spell Nairn and Da Costa.
FW – (De Vanna), *Miller, (Taylor), *Weimer, *Harding
There are way too many “if”‘s here to feel too confident at the moment. If Jodie Taylor comes back and finds some measure of consistency after a roller coaster ride last year. If Natasha Harding adapts quickly to her new teammates and new league. If Lisa De Vanna returns and shows she’s still got something left in the tank. If Tiffany Weimer and Caroline Miller can shake the injury bug and be contributors at this level.
But if the Spirit don’t get positive answers to a lot of those “if”‘s, they could be in trouble. It’s not out of the question that neither De Vanna nor Taylor return, that Harding takes a while to acclimatize, and that Weimer and Miller struggle. Washington would do well to find a little more insurance here, but given their lack of draft options, it doesn’t look too likely.