2024 S-2 Briefing: Washington Spirit

We’re two-thirds the way down our look at this coming season’s opponents, below the red line but still fairly far off the bottom, looking at the…

Washington Spirit

Year formed: 2012
Another season for one of the Original Eight founding clubs. Here’s last year’s briefing. We’ll go from there.

Back in 2023 I paused here to take a look at how the Thorns had done against all these outfits in the past regular seasons.

I totted up the club records (excluding 2020) and came to the conclusions that, based purely on won-loss record:

  1. Seattle has been our “nemesis”, beating us more than even Carolina. The Damned are right behind, tho. And
  2. Houston is our biggest punching bag, with Orlando second.

How’s the list look after another season? (Records shown as “Portland win-loss-draw”):
SEA: 10-13-6 over ten seasons (added two wins in 2023)
CRS: 14-2-10 over ten seasons (added two wins)
WAS: 13-3-8 over ten seasons (added a win and a draw)
GOT: 12-7-7 over ten seasons (added a win and a loss – includes record as Sky Blue)
BOS: 8-5-1 over five seasons (no change – folded after 2017)
NCC: 10-10-6 over ten seasons (added a win and a draw – includes record as Western New York)
HOU: 14-5-4 over nine seasons (added a draw and a loss)
ORL: 13-3-2 over eight seasons (added a win and a loss)
UTA: 6-2-5 over five seasons (added a win and a loss – includes record as Kansas City Current)
FCKC: 4-6-4 over five seasons (no change, since they’re defunct)
LOU: 5-1-0 over three seasons (add a win and a (first!) loss)
ACFC: 1-1-2 over two seasons (added a draw and a loss)
SDW: 0-2-2 over two seasons

If you go purely by points-per-game, though? Our worst nightmare is San Freaking Diego; they’ve owned us, giving us only 0.5ppg over two years.

FCKC? 1.14ppg; next worst enemy. Third in line? Chicago. Yes, Chicago! 1.15ppg (all those fucking draws).

Who are we the boss of? Louisville, mostly; 2.5ppg. Orlando right behind (2.27ppg) and Houston third-most “can we play you, can we play you, can we play you every week” opponent (2ppg).

Washington was fourth in line; 1.95ppg.

Owners: Michelle Kang
After the epic battle to buy the team, owner Michelle Kang branched out into soccer corporatization, teaming up with OL Groupe (the owner of Olympique Lyonnais) to become “…the first of its kind global woman-owned, women-led multi-club football organization” linking OL and the Spirit. The linked piece goes on to promise that “…(t)his new global platform will look to acquire additional clubs in other countries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.”

This has, unsurprisingly, soured the Kang honeymoon in DC a bit, now that the Savior from the Evil Baldwin is doing the sort of thing that “people’s game” fans (like me…) hated when Aulas was doing it or when the Saudis do it.

Anyone who’s watched what these wealthy people do any wasn’t surprised, though. It’s a business and they’re in it to make money. And, guess who’s money they’re gonna make it off..? (Hint; if you look around the table and don’t see the sucker…)

Head Coach: Jonatan Giráldez Costas
Was manager of FC Barcelona Femení since July 2021. He took Barca to the domestic treble – league, “Queens” cup, and “Supercup” in the 2021–22 season and another treble – league, Queen’s Cup, and UEFA Champions League – in the 2022–23 season.

He’s not due to arrive until after Barca’s season ends in June.

He’s a huge signing for Washington, and much of the player movement over the offseason is presumably at his direction. Since he’ll be pulling the strings I’m not sure how much value it will provide to review last season, but…

Record: 2023 – 7-6-9 (30 points; 8th of 12) 26GF 29GA -3GD
Season summary: Well, better than the shit of 2022, but not much in the end.

Parson’s Washington kicked off like a burning house; 6-1-5 over the first 12, top of table on Matchday 12.

Then everything when utterly to Hell.

1-5-4 over the final ten, and out of contention. The death blow was the loss to The Damned Courage on Matchday 22; Washington needed a draw to have hope, a win to lock in.

Instead the Spirit went down a player and then a goal.

Parsons was fired in October 2023.

Meetings with Portland: 6/23/23 (4-2 road loss), 8/27/23 (1-1 home draw)

Outstanding players: Ashley Hatch has been leading the line in Washington since 2018 and was, again, the leading scorer with nine goals, two assists, five of five from the penalty spot. As they had in 2022 from there, though, the Spirit hunted for goals down the roster; Ashley Sanchez added five goals and two assists, Trinity Rodman bagged five and one, midfielder Paige Metayer bagged three goals and an assist.

From there? One goal each from three players, then nothing.

Along with the scorers the most-started regulars for the Spirit included defenders Canadian international Gabi Carle and Sam Staab, Tara McKeown and Dorian Bailey, and midfielder Andi Sullivan. Aubrey Kingsbury was the starting keeper.

How’d they do in back, then?

Goalkeeper – SeasonxG againstGAGamesxGa/gameD/Diff
Kingsbury 202235.328191.47-0.38
Kingsbury 202326.2*24201.31-0.11
*2023 value based on post-shot xG against

The Spirit defense had improved a bit from 2022, and Kingsbury was still a solid keeper, saving the Spirit more than they should have conceded based on the looks they gave up.

In 2022, I said that:

“…the Spirit were JUST bad enough and unlucky enough at the wrong times; from Matchday 2 through 17 they lose six games and every single loss is by one goal. This wasn’t a tire fire like Louisville or Orlando (or Gotham, as we’ll see). This was a team that just couldn’t buy a break. When they were good – like in July when they put three past Carolina – they were unlucky. When they weren’t good their opponents were just that much better…or at least less-bad.”

In 2023? In the first half of the season they were among the best in the league.

In the second half of the season the Spirit were among the worst; 1-5-4, shut out in five of the last ten, outscored 17-8.

Even then, bad as they’d been, their first half (and the tight table) put them in a position where they needed only two more points to jump into fifth and the playoffs; they just needed to turn one of those four draws into a win.

They needed a Decision Day win.

They couldn’t make it happen.

How did they score?

They didn’t, much, and it was all Hatch, Sanchez, and Rodman, basically.

Parsons typically trained on corners when he was here and he did the same in Washington; all three targeted Metayer, so clearly he had a plan. Whether that will continue? Probably, at least at first. So “mark Metayer on corners” is a thing, Mike.

How Did They Look?

Not sure how valuable it will be to look back at Parsons formations. Instead let’s look at the new gaffer’s record at Barca:

If you can’t read the small print, the tl:dr is; Costas luurves him some 4-3-3. Shifted to a 4-2-3-1 for Eintracht Frankfurt in the CL, but otherwise? 4-3-3 all the way down.

Here it is in La Liga:

Here’ the thing with trying to predict from that; here’s the only time Parsons ran out a 4-3-3. Opening match of 2023 against Seattle:


We’ll talk about this next, but Staab? Gone. Sanchez? Gone. Feist? Gone. Bailey? Gone.

This is going to be a whole new outfit next season.

Changes for 2024

Who else is gone?

Tori Huster retired. Ashley Sanchez was traded to Carolina during the NCAA Draft. Camryn Biegalski went to Chicago as a free agent. Several squad players were waived or remain unsigned free agents.

Coming in are Casey Krueger from Chicago and Tiffany Ratcliffe from the Damned Courage. Washington signed two French internationals, defender Annaig Butel and forward Ouleymata Sarr, late in 2023.

The Spirit had six picks in the 2024 Draft, four in the first round. Their choices included:
Croix Bethune (midfield) – 1st round #3 – Henderson rated this “A+” but noted; “Missed half of season injured and injury history is a worry….”
Hal Hershfelt (DM) – 1st round #5 – “B/B+” per Henderson,
Kate Weisner (LB) – 1st round #7 – Henderson’s comment: “The best pure left-back in the draft was always going to be in demand. But what does it mean for Gabby Carle’s future here?”
Makenna Morris (RB) – 1st round #13 – Henderson “A”, “best RB in the class…successor to Krueger?”
Anna Podojil (winger) – 3rd round #35 – “B”; versatile, but injury concerns.
Courtney Brown (DM) – 4th round #49 – another “A” good value for late pick.

Henderson thought Krikorian had, again, done well drafting. Overall I think we’re going to have to wait and see how the Spirit look this season to figure out who’s in the XI and who’s on the bench; there’s just too many variables right now.

How they’ll look this year?

Something like this?

Not sure Bethune starts at the #8; that was Henderson’s thought, and he really thinks highly of her, but tough gig for a pure rook.

This looks damn decent to me. They’re still gonna struggle when the internationals are gone – but so are we. This looks like a good team…

…but so did 2023’s, and look at what happened to them.

Summing Up

The new gaffer is a complete black swan, but his record at Barca is insane. If he’s able to repeat that in D.C.? This club could be a monster.

But that’s the future. As Bill James wrote, the future could be a dream, or it could be a nightmare, or it could just never arrive. My guess is that this club will be better; Mark Parsons has had a run of poor work going back to the Netherlands job, and Costas is the opposite.

But right now there’s just too many moving parts.


I’m gonna say playoffs, but second? Seventh? No clue.

Will they be dangerous? I think so.

Can the Thorns beat them? I know it’s my job in these things, but…maybe? Depends on Mike Norris. Depends on our roster. Depends on Costas and their roster. I’m not confident we can beat this club consistently, though, so no.

Next up: Racing towards Mediocrity

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

8 thoughts on “2024 S-2 Briefing: Washington Spirit

  1. Three players on this roster have a lot to prove if they are going to go to the Olympics: Krueger, Hatch and Sullivan. Unless they get a real hot hand they may be left off. Krueger has the best chance and until this year Sullivan has been a fixture. Hatch is good but she is in a very deep pool. So I see these three all getting a hot start and that will be good for the Spirit. That said I don’t think this is as good of a team as last year. But if they only lose two of the three I mentioned they could be like the Crystal Dunn Spirit of the past, except times two or even three. No fury like a past over woman.

    1. Sullivan has been a disappointment in the league, frankly, regardless of her WNT status. I’m not sure I see the OG changing that. I like Krueger, but she’s not typically a game changer.

      Hatch is Hatch; we’ve seen what she brings. It’s good work, but she’s gonna need more.

      But…is Costas that more? This guy has been tearing up the fucking CHAMPIONS LEAGUE!!! Can he take this mob and drive them like wild horses?

      THAT could be the difference more than any individual player.

      1. I find it hard to know how good a coach Costas is, simply because he has a roster that’s at least two steps everyone else in his league, and a step above most other teams int he Champions League. This is a problem with a lot of European WoSo leagues – results depend more on the huge differences in roster quality than on coaching skill, player desire/effort, or anything else. (This is true for a lot of BroSo leagues there too.) They really need some effective parity mechanisms to become interesting. I don’t even watch Barca highlights because there’s no point – they’re going to smash their opponents without really having to try.

        1. In La Liga, yes.

          In the CL, tho, there’s SOME parity; clubs like the Arse, Wolfsburg, OL, PSG…those aren’t tomato cans. Barca has taken two of the last three CLs…and that coincides with this guy’s tenure. So correlation or causation? We’ll see if he can take this sucker downtown this year…

  2. IMO, Sullivan has always been overrated and paired with Sonnet, another non-world stage player, you have a good place to start looking for the problems with the USWNT. Parsons has had a really miserable few years. He couldn’t win over the Dutch players and he couldn’t get a lot out of Sanchez or Rodman. Neither seemed to have their hearts in it in the second half of the season. My guess is they start slow, pick it up after the new manager arrives, but still miss the playoffs.

    1. Yeah, I’m on the “meh” train about Sullivan. Always seems like a glorified squad player to me.

      And Parsons rep really rides on two seasons; the 2016 Shield and the 2017 star. Maybe half a clap for 2018 except it was so obvious that Riley (spit!) had his number.
      Other that that he was “semifinal good” (Washington 2014, 2015) and here (2019, 2021), he flopped with the Ornaje, and his return to D.C. was pretty lame.

      He seems to have a knack for roster building, so I wonder if he should consider a move into the GM office?

      1. In 2021 Parsons also won the Shield, which is a better measure of team quality than the championship. Kudos to him for that, especially because his two successors couldn’t quite do it even with a lot of the same starters (except Horan, which is admittedly a big exception, though on the flip side Smith wasn’t yet the force she became in 2022).

        I think Parsons is a bit weak tactically, but he excelled at two other essential coaching skills: finding and getting good players, and building team cohesion. He was also pretty good at another essential skill, getting buy-in from his players during games – at getting them to play their hearts out – though Paul “Spit” Riley was always the master at that.

        It would be fabulous if we could get Parsons as GM, though I do wonder if it would lead to power struggles when the various FO people have strong but differing opinions.

        1. His tendency to get crosswise with people like referees makes me wonder how good he’d be at office politics.

          I’d forgotten about 2021. That’s certainly in his favor. That said, the knock on Harvey is her record in the knockouts, and Parsons certainly can’t avoid being tarred with that brush. Much as I’m kind of a purist about finishing top of table, the reality of big-money soccer manager is that winning in knockouts is an important part of that skillset.

          So I guess my general impression is that he’s pretty skilled. I’m just not sure HOW skilled. He’s up there…but with the top flight of soccer management? Or is he “one step below” the big names?


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