Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

WOMEN’S SOCCER | Washington Spirit’s Dramatic Home Opener Signals New Era

New players, new coach, new owner — the Washington Spirit are looking forward to an exciting season of change.
Haan Jun (Ryan) Lee/The Hoya | The Washington Spirit are poised for an electrifying season of change.

After a heartbreaking end to the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season and an offseason filled with changes, the Washington Spirit have shown plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the season ahead. 

The offseason saw 10 players depart the club, most notably forward Ashley Sanchez, who was traded to the North Carolina Courage, and defender Sam Staab, who was traded to the Chicago Red Stars. Despite shocking both players and fans, these trades enabled the Spirit to acquire four first-round draft picks, which the team used to draft Georgia midfielder Croix Bethune, Penn State defender Kate Wiesner and Clemson teammates midfielder Hal Hershfelt and defender Makenna Morris. 

More reinforcements will come in the summer in the form of Colombian midfielder Leicy Santos, who will sign for the Spirit from Atlético Madrid. Santos starred for Colombia in last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup and will join at the conclusion of the Spanish Liga F season, the Spirit announced April 2.

Joining Santos in a summer move from Spain is a prestigious coaching hire. After firing former head coach Mark Parsons at the end of last season, the Spirit announced current FC Barcelona Femení manager Jonatan Giráldez as the new head coach Jan. 9. Despite his youth — Giráldez is only 32, younger than some of his new Spirit players — the Spaniard has seen success, leading Barcelona Femení to a Spanish domestic treble in the 2021-22 season and a continental treble in the 2022-23 season. Giráldez will join the club in the summer after finishing the season with Barça; until then, his assistant coach Adrián González is serving as interim head coach.

The Spirit started the 2024 season March 17, with a 1-0 defeat away to Seattle Reign FC. After conceding a penalty in the opening minute of the match, the Spirit struggled mightily to generate offense, ending with only 2 shots, and only 1 on goal, for the entire match. A controversial red card decision saw goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury sent off during second-half stoppage time, forcing the Spirit to play with 10 for the remainder of the match. The Spirit successfully appealed the red card, however, and Kingsbury did not have to serve a suspension.

For their home opener March 23, the Spirit faced off against expansion side Bay FC in front of 11,734 fans, a club record for a home opener. 

The Spirit began the match attacking aggressively, trying to put the previous week’s poor offensive performance behind them. Two early corners and chances generated in transition showed the Spirit weren’t messing around. 

However, the defense looked a bit shaky, playing a few errant passes leading to turnovers that gave Bay FC multiple chances early on. Despite the early signs of danger from the Spirit, Bay FC took the lead in the 11th minute through former Spirit midfielder Dorian Bailey, who was traded this offseason. Forward Asisat Oshoala’s pass found Bailey unmarked, and her right-footed shot easily found the back of the net. After a quick video review check for offside, the goal stood, and the Spirit again found themselves having to fight from behind early on in a game. 

Forward Trinity Rodman, the United States women’s national soccer team standout, was heavily involved early on after missing the Spirit’s first game due to a red card suspension that carried over from the Spirit’s final game of 2023. Despite this being her first game with Hershfelt, Bethune and star defender Casey Krueger, Rodman looked right at home, creating multiple chances and looking threatening offensively as per usual.

The Spirit’s deficit wouldn’t last long: in the 23rd minute, Rodman’s short pass through two defenders found Hershfelt, who unleashed a rocket to net her first professional goal and level the game.

Washington gained confidence after its first goal of the season and looked aggressive through the remainder of the first half. Rodman and Bethune continued linking up nicely in transition, a seamlessly natural chemistry that bodes well for the future. However, the Spirit had yet to find the breakthrough leading into the second half. 

Neither team looked particularly dangerous through the first 15 minutes of the second half. The Spirit picked it back up eventually, though, generating chance after chance, but were not quite able to find the go-ahead goal.

Just when it seemed certain that the Spirit would have to settle for a point, center back Tara McKeown floated a cross into the box, which forward Ashley Hatch laid off for Bethune. Bethune then juggled her way past 3 defenders to slot the ball right down the middle to give the Spirit the 2-1 lead at the death; her first professional goal would be the game-winner.

Haan Jun (Ryan) Lee/TheHoya | Midfielder Croix Bethune scored what would be the game-winner, her first professional goal, in the Spirit’s home opener.

González emphasized the contributions from rookies Hershfelt and Bethune in a post-game presser.

“They are ready to compete. I’m so happy for them because we believe in the young talent. This is why we drafted those players, we are helping them to develop as soon as possible. They are improving a lot so quickly,” González said. “For the future, the Washington Spirit has amazing talent.”

In a post-game press conference reflecting on how it felt to score her first professional goal, Hershfelt highlighted Audi Field’s atmosphere.

“It felt insane, the energy at Audi,” Hershfelt said. “I mean, you have games in college in the tournament and stuff where you have your school come out and everything like that, but that was something different. I had never experienced anything like that.”

The Spirit returned to Audi Field March 31 and secured a 2-1 win over Utah Royals FC and will next see action against the Houston Dash April 12. As the rookies continue to integrate with Rodman, star midfielder Andi Sullivan, French international forward Ouleymata Sarr and the rest of the Spirit’s veteran core, the NWSL should be on high alert. 

The Washington Spirit are back — and they could be shaping up to have a very special season.

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