(Image Courtesy of Washington Spirit twitter)
As the front office and ownership saga continues to unfold for the Washington Spirit, the on-field product has shown no signs of slowing down as the club enters its final home match with a playoff spot already clinched and a chance to earn a bye.
The Spirit have impressively blocked out the noise of the spiraling ownership and leadership situation and are undefeated since August, discounting a pair of Covid-related forfeitures dating back to September. Washington clinched their playoff spot with a 2-0 win over second-place OL Reign on Oct. 19. This weekend’s slate of matches will also be important to the Spirit’s visitors this weekend, the Houston Dash, who can clinch a postseason berth with a loss by North Carolina Courage.
Washington and Houston have already met twice this season. On August 13, the two sides played to a 2-2 draw just days after Richie Burke left the team, and Washington grabbed an away win over the Dash in May.
“The last Houston game in particular, we felt like we came out and we were able to press them at times and do a very good job of that, but then [we] just didn’t have the legs to be able to do that over the course of the entire game,” interim Spirit coach Kris Ward said of the season series. “And so now I think it’s a similar situation to just looking at where we are, looking at the things that we’ve improved since that game, but also taking into account where we are in the season and the fact that we’ve got people coming back who have just played a couple games as compared to half the team that hasn’t.”
The impending home finale comes amid a continuous state of flux for the Spirit organization. The Washington Post’s Molly Hensley-Clancy was the first to report on Friday that Larry Best, the Spirit front office executive with close ties to embattled owner Steve Baldwin, resigned. Best has been accused of, among other institutional failures, using degrading nicknames for players and female staff members.
On the ownership side, Baldwin is still in talks to sell the team, as he finally pledged he would two weeks ago after many months of growing calls to do so from fans and, eventually, Spirit players. The Post has reported that LA Dodgers and Lakers part-owner Todd Boehly has made an offer to buy the team and keep it in DC, while representatives of current part-owner Y. Michelle Kang — who the players have openly praised — remains in discussions as well.
Elsewhere, the NWSL and its Players Association jointly announced that the league had committed to all of the players’ demands, including an all-encompassing investigation into the workplace cultures at every NWSL team.
“We are pleased to have reached this agreement to collaborate with the Players Association on the investigation announced by the NWSL on October 3rd,” the NWSL said in a statement. “As a league, we are committed to making the systemic and cultural changes necessary to create a safe environment for our players and staff, and today’s agreement to proceed with a joint investigation is an important next step in that process.”
Ward said at his pre-match press conference that he had yet to have the chance to speak with the Spirit players about this development as of Friday morning.
“I think in general, they’ll be happy about it,” Ward said. “It’s certainly a positive situation. I just don’t know, with all the other stuff that’s around, how much that plays into it.”
While the Spirit cannot be eliminated from playoff contention, there is still much to play for on Sunday. With a Washington win and losses by second-place OL Reign and third-place Chicago, the Spirit could launch themselves to second place and earn a home playoff match and a first-round bye. Ward says the players are focused on achieving the best possible outcome and aren’t letting their guard down despite having already qualified for the postseason.
“I haven’t gotten a sense from anyone that they’re relaxing in any way shape or form,” Ward said. “I think we’re still in a mode where we still have a lot to prove, and we’re going out to try and do that.”