Clock Ticking Down: Spirit Running Out of Time

After winning the NWSL Championship in 2021, the Washington Spirit have struggled the entire 2022 campaign to string together consistent results. After another draw where the Spirit fell behind on the road in the second half, Washington has still yet to collect a win since the first day of May before the Challenge Cup Final. Washington has the second most international players in the NWSL with seven contributing to the success of the USWNT. Just two more games in the month of August for the Spirit, and then only five matches before the end of the regular season for Washington to carve itself back into contention for a repeat.


The high-powered Spirit sit in 10th in the NWSL table, and while they played three bottom-of-the-table teams in the last three contests, the defending champions only mustered up three points in total. As the Kansas City Current rise and the rest of the clubs in the top half of the table begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, it may be too late for the Spirit to punch their ticket to postseason soccer.

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Last season, Washington had six draws in total, but this year, the Spirit already have nine, continuing to throw games away at the end where they may have thought it was going to walk away with three points. The condensed scheduling and the injuries could be just a few reasons for the club's struggles to put together a complete performance, and if Washington wants to have a chance at a repeat, it may need to rely on the demise of other clubs above it.


After another draw to Racing Louisville on the road, 31-year-old defender Amber Brooks expressed what her thoughts were heading into the rest of the regular season, stating, "There’s been a sense of urgency for quite a few weeks now...So that doesn’t change. We’re seeing progress in the overall way that we’re playing and the opportunities we’re getting, but we know we need to be more clinical on both ends. But there’s a lot of faith. And we know we’re taking steps in the right direction.”


There have only been three teams since 2014 not including the Washington Spirit that have had a season with nine or more draws in it. Securing at least a point at the end of the day is essential, but when drawing becomes a habit, there is no way to make any progress up the NWSL table. Versatile attacking threats of Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez provide Washington with some hope of turning its season around, but for the Spirit to be able to make the postseason, the turnaround should have happened a few weeks ago.


Despite a potent attack that helped lead this determined squad through the NWSL postseason, Washington has scored the third-fewest goals in the league this season. The only two teams with fewer goals are Gotham FC and Angel City. On the defensive end, the Spirit have allowed just 19 goals which is the second-fewest of any team that is not currently in the postseason picture. On the other side of things, Washington is tied for the second-lowest clean sheet percentage in the NWSL with Racing Louisville. Brooks continues to believe that Washington is taking the steps in the right direction to progress up the table, but for that to happen, several teams above the defending champions have to slip up for the Spirit to rise.

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When facing off against another bottom-of-the-table opponent, Washington needs to be able to capture as many points as it can. The Spirit have blown a two-goal lead twice this season, and if they were to find a way to collect three points in each of those contests, the complexion of their season would be completely different. Washington has the third-most shots in the NWSL this season but has the fourth-lowest shots on target percentage in the league. Getting Ashley Hatch back on track, and in the lineup for the first time since the month of June gives Washington some momentum heading into a massive duel against a Portland Thorns side that has had no problems putting the ball into the back of the net.


The leader in the middle of the pitch, Andi Sullivan has only managed to play seven of the 15 matches in the regular season, and that has to be a reason for some of the struggles. Getting healthy at the right time is important for this club going forward, but at the same time, a team as talented as Washington should be nowhere near the bottom of the table. From not stepping to a player as talented as the Danish international Nadia Nadim to Rodman failing to put away a multitude of opportunities in front of her in the second half, the Spirit may have seen their season flash before their eyes against Louisville this past Saturday. From a congested schedule during the months of May and June combined with injuries for its best players, and an international break, Washington has been through it all this season.


The direction of the team is moving in a positive direction coming off an NWSL title and the announcement that Michele Kang will be the majority owner of Washington going forward. She became the first woman of color to own an NWSL franchise in the history of the league as she continues to attempt to take this club to the next level with aspirations of constructing a permanent professional training facility, building a world-class sports business operation, and obtaining national sponsorships.


This just may be a bump in the road for the Spirit as a franchise as they continue to make themselves known around the United States and the world as one of the best women's soccer club's out there. Despite all the anticipation under new ownership, and after Rodman signed the largest contract in the history of the league, Washington has not been able to see a match through to the finish line. The leadership and experience of players like Kelley O'Hara will help guide the Spirit in the direction of challenging to the last possible minute for a playoff spot. The odds may be stacked against them, and the season may have not gone exactly as Kris Ward would have liked, but if any team has the ability to dig themselves out of this hole, it is this talented Washington side that is currently 11 points back of a playoff spot.


-Caden


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