Washington Spirit ‘excited for fresh start’ after Michele Kang takes over

It’s been an interesting week for the Washington Spirit, who have faced two very different developments that are both set to have a major impact on their 2022 NWSL season. Firstly, the battle for control of the club appears to have been settled in Michele’s favor Kang, with players being notified in person earlier this week. Second, Washington trained Thursday with eight players out due to international call-ups, and three others completed their final session with their club before heading elsewhere for national duty.

Here are the images and sounds of the workout:

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Thursday’s group practice was very different from last week, with the USWNT septet and Devon Kerr (Canada) leaving for the national team. Washington’s large roster of trials riders all seemed to be in place, although at least one (Eden Jacobsen) did not attend training that day for undisclosed reasons. Julia Roddar (Sweden), Karina Rodríguez (Mexico) and Sydney Schneider (Jamaica) were all present for a final practice before heading off to their national teams. Roddar scored perhaps the most notable goal in the short-term game, seemingly coming out of nowhere to burst through the middle and stab home a pass that initially seemed out of reach.

There was good news in terms of returning contracted players. Kumi Yokoyama trained without any apparent restrictions, while Jordan Baggett and Alia Martin worked in parallel. Baggett – B&RU was told it’s pronounced like French bread, to answer a few people’s question – is slowly building, with head coach Kris Ward saying the team wants to make sure that she is fully recovered from the hip issue that plagued her in 2021. Last year, Baggett was thought to be close enough to 100% to make it to the game day roster for three different periods of the season, but suffered setbacks that ultimately required rehab away from the team.

Meanwhile, Martin underwent surgery last month, and the Spirit wants to make sure her fitness base is sufficiently developed before launching her into full sessions. Ward said they plan to fully involve their new center once the team is in Florida.

The only other players not to participate in practice, at least those seen by reporters, were draft pick Tinaya Alexander – the Spirit said she had a ‘minor adjustment’ and that she was seated as a precaution – and Tori Huster, who was at the sessions despite being a long way from her return from a torn Achilles tendon.

Cutting in Florida

The Spirit depart in stages for the second leg of the pre-season, during which they will settle into the IMG Academy in Bradenton for just over two weeks. Staff members head to the players to sort everything out, with the team and technical staff arriving over the weekend. Washington plans to

After two weeks on grass during which the Spirits weren’t looking to get exhausted, the sessions in Florida will be more demanding. “Much of this week and last week was just setting a very low base. We didn’t want to be super intense,” explained Ward, who later noted that players who had spent winter camps with the USWNT were more advanced in their preparation and loadout as a result. “We just wanted to build a real base and then when we get to Florida be able to go a lot stronger.”

There is a clear logic to this. Besides having more reliable good weather, IMG Academy has natural grass fields galore. Training with more intensity on this surface, rather than on an indoor grass court, is unsurprisingly preferred. Last year, the Spirit found the first part of their pre-season – with so much time on the grass – exhausting and left players with a few minor issues to tend to throughout the spring and even into the summer. Also, the NWSL pre-season is very long, especially considering that the Challenge Cup exists in a kind of strange purgatory between a simple pre-season tournament and an important competition.

Washington will prepare for the Challenge Cup with three preseason games. Ward said the first of those will be in Florida against Kansas City Current on Feb. 26, while the team has tentative plans to play two more games closer to home between then and their home game. opening of the March 19 Challenge Cup against Orlando Pride. Opponents and firm dates/times have not been set.

What is the team working on?

So far, the focus seems to be on playing in tight spaces and getting the ball back quickly. Although reporters aren’t present at most team practices, we’re down to two straight weeks where playing with smaller teams in a condensed space has been part of the session. This type of play emphasizes playing in tight spaces, and also means there are more opportunities to work on getting the ball back quickly and getting on goal immediately. Ward has repeatedly hinted at wanting to become a team that can have more of that element in their repertoire, so the focus isn’t a major surprise. Washington also had a finishing drill to close out the practice, with Schneider and Nicole Barnhart both making top-notch saves in the process.

The big news

As for the Spirit, the big news broke earlier in the week, with Michele Kang and Steve Baldwin telling players on Tuesday that Kang would complete his bid to become the team’s majority owner. Assuming there are no more twists to the story, Tuesday marked the informal end to a nearly year-long Shakespearean saga that captured national attention and impacted every aspect organisation.

While the news marks a hopeful new chapter for the Spirit, it doesn’t mean all of their issues are over. “It brings a lot of clarity. There’s a lot of fatigue relief, in that sense, but in some ways it’s not over. We’re still here,” Ward said, pointing to the St. James football field to allude to Washington’s lack of a permanent base. “Finding a solid home is still the number one priority right now, and so until we’re really set, I don’t know if we’ll be able to lose this weight.”

Ward added that it would be easier to move forward with fewer parties to consult when the club took action, but noted that players and staff still had work to do. “There are still a lot of things we need to recover from,” adding later that the players as a group had had a discussion regarding the training change the night before.

Rodríguez and forward Tara McKeown, who surely had one of the most unusual seasons in NWSL history as rookies, said their attention was on the future. “I think we’re happy it’s over with… We can start the new season moving forward and looking ahead with Michele,” McKeown said. Rodríguez added that she felt the group was “excited for a fresh start” and, in a joint note for the Spirit, added that the group was determined to defend their championship.

Rodríguez said the players were happy for Kang to take control of the club. “I think she’s got a great plan in place to move the club forward, and we’re really excited to see some positive changes… It’s really cool to see a strong, powerful woman as a leader for us. ”

McKeown struck a similar chord, saying having a woman as the majority owner “helps the league a lot. Moving forward knowing that women can be empowered and that (team ownership) isn’t just a man’s world anymore… I think that will help us be more successful.

New leaders

Immediately after the ownership announcement, the Spirit faced a new problem: much of the team’s leadership group had to fly to the USWNT less than 48 hours later. Between the new issue of having so many players called up, Huster’s injury and offseason departures, Washington will begin its stay in Florida with just seven of the 22 players who were in uniform for any of their 2021 playoff games.

This means that for the next two weeks there is a window where new players will be vetted to play an increased role in terms of setting the standard within the squad. Ward cited Sam Staab and Dorian Bailey – both entering their fourth professional season and now well established within the team’s roster and culture – as two players he has in mind for the responsibility. He also added the addition of offseason Gaby Vincent to this list, saying that while she “is still finding her feet within the group”, Vincent expressed her desire to play an important role in what is an even younger group than normal during this period. international window.

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