Team Name: Washington Spirit
Head Coach: Richie Burke
Last Year’s Finish: 9-7-8, 5th overall
Year one of the Richie Burke era in Washington saw the Spirit take a massive leap forward, narrowly missing the league’s final playoff spot and earning their most points in a season since their 2016 NWSL Championship run. Audrey Bledsoe’s eighty-six save campaign was not only good enough to earn her Goalkeeper of the Year honors, but helped the Spirit yield the second-fewest goals in the league with twenty-five.
Key Players In: Kumi Yokoyama, Brooke Hendrix, Jaye Boissiere, Ashley Sanchez
Key Players Out: Chloe Logarzo, Arielle Ship, Mallory Pugh, Megan Croson
Player to Watch: Ashley Sanchez (FWD)
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 22, 2017
Much can and will be made about the Spirit’s new international signings this summer, but 2019 fourth overall pick Ashley Sanchez can be lethal in one-on-one situations and has been tapped by Burke to start this Saturday against Chicago. Sanchez found the back of the net twenty-three times for UCLA in only three seasons, amassing a staggering forty-two assists in that span as well. Burke appears to have confidence Sanchez can fill the role of the now-departed Pugh, and her star-studded collegiate career bolsters his claim.
Challenge Cup Outlook: While some of the names missing from this summer’s Spirit side may give fans pause, Burke has assembled a very formidable side for the Challenge Cup. The league’s second best defense last season not only returns last year’s standout duo of Sam Staab and Paige Nielsen, but adds West Ham’s Brooke Hendrix. Kumi Yokoyama will add support and additionally creativity to the promising Ashley Hatch up front, and the Spirit midfield three of Jordan DiBiasi, Andi Sullivan, and Rose Lavelle finally have a tournament together free of any stints of international duty. It’s up to Burke to put together the pieces, but the Spirit are poised to make a deep run this summer.