Every morning like clockwork the Washington Spirit’s Twitter feed updates its countdown. We’re now at 8 days till training camp opens, 42 until the team’s inaugural match, and 48 until the home opener. So what’s it been like starting up a new team?
“Hectic,” says general manager Chris Hummer. “There’s not much sleep going on. We’re starting a new league and a new team in record time. It’s really exciting, but it’s very hectic. We’re coming together, and we’ve got a good squad going in.” They did have the DC United Women’s heritage structure to build on, but that’s mostly on the operational side. They still need a roster of talented players, which head coach Mike Jorden thinks they have.
“They’re looking good. It’s exciting, and I think everyone’s looking forward to getting together for spring training next week.” Asked if the team had any holes left to fill, he said, “Not really. It’s going to be a matter of getting in a week, seeing where everyone’s at fitness-wise and health-wise and kind of going from there. Once we get into the preseason we’ll have a more clear picture of what we need.”
Even with the good news about Ashlyn Harris being available as soon as the Algarve Cup ends, there are still some question marks about player availability, particularly with the Mexican national teamers allocated to Washington. Alina Garciamendez is a promising young defender, but she’s decided to stay at Stanford and finish her degree. With Stanford using the quarter system for its schedule, that means she won’t be available until June. Adds Hummer, “We also believe she had some minor surgery.”
Guadalupe Worbis is also a question mark. “She’s in school, too. She’s in school in Mexico. We expect to get her around the end of May, beginning of June.”
The Spirit were given an extra free agent slot due to the uncertainty over their allocated players, and they’re still entitled to that despite the change in Harris’s status. “The fifth was more for generally uncertainty on three players: Ashlyn, Worbis, and Garciamendez. So it was an acknowledgement that we weren’t going to get one out of those three. We have a fifth one, she’s under contract in Europe. So we can’t do a deal with her until that’s done.” Hummer couldn’t reveal her name, but said, “She’s really, really good.”
Hummer went off unbidden on the question of the league’s survivability given the history of women’s professional soccer in the US. “One question I thank you for not asking is what makes this different? It’s completely different. This is a completely different structure. It’s not to be compared on the business side. And the only thing wrong with the other two leagues was that they weren’t sound on the business side. And this league is very sound on the business side. The US Federation being in charge of the front office not only provides serious leadership and experience, the whole league is likely to benefit from relationships they have in place with sponsors and media partners. And that’s unprecedented.
“This time around we just need to hit what we think are realistic attendance goals and modest sponsor commitments in cash and trade to be sustainable. The previous leagues had budgets that needed way more than modest sponsorships on top of big attendance forecasts to even approach break even.And we build from there. So, fans, come out and support us. This is probably the last chance for a long, long time. But everyone’s very optimistic. But they’re always optimistic. They have to actually show up. And if they actually show up and back up the buzz on Twitter and everything else, this league’s going to be here for their daughters. That’s what we’re trying to do.“
Hummer’s pleased with the situation so far. The team has over 500 season tickets sold, and he touted the huge interest in the college preseason matches, with over 5100 tickets downloaded from the team’s website.
He’s also very high on the Spirit’s W-League team. “We’re going to have a great W-League team this year, too. And they’re going to be a genuine reserve team. The league will allow us to bring up players for one game to fill in for national team callups.” (He later clarified that NCAA-eligible players would not be open to this option since they’re not allowed to play alongside professionals at the club level.)
The day was devoted to a pro combine looking for players to consider bringing into camp, along with several sessions to give younger players a chance to try out for the club’s youth teams. “We just got a handful of players to take a last look before we get into spring training,” Jorden explained. “We’ve got a roof of 32 kids we’re allowed to bring in, so we’re just looking at a few kids that haven’t been able to come out yet. Take a look and kind of move on from there.”
I’m proscribed from naming any of the players who were trying out, though I will say that at least two would be familiar to followers of last year’s DC United Women. But also participating in the combine were a representative threesome of players already signed:
Holly King is a defensive midfielder from Ashburn, VA, who was home for spring break while finishing up at Florida. She was also an outstanding performer for the DC United Women last summer and was the Spirit’s third-round pick in the NWSL college draft. “Very exciting, happy to be here. I’ve been here with DC United Women this past summer, so I’m glad to be back.” Asked if there was anything particular she was looking forward to, she said, “Just getting to know my teammates. Getting to continue to do what I love to do at a higher level. Compete against people that I’ve grown up watching. It’s really exciting to be in that kind of environment.”
Heather Cooke played defender for Loyola after growing up in California, MD, and was taken in the sixth round of the supplemental draft. “I’m really honored to have made it to the training camp. It’s probably one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, just going in there. I haven’t had the experiences of some of the other girls. I’m really just looking to better myself as a soccer player to gain as much experience and to learn as much as possible. I’m really excited to just be in this training camp … to get to play at that level, of that caliber.” Asked about being in camp alongside players like Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris from the US national team, she responded, “Yeah, it’s crazy, I mean I’m a little nervous, just because these are people that represent the best girls in the world, and I get to play with them. So for me it means a lot just because I’m representing the Philippines in the AFC, and it’s just going to do huge things for women’s soccer, here and abroad.”
Julia Roberts, another local girl from Frederick, MD, just graduated from Virginia after playing defender for them for four years as well as once being part of the U-20 national team. The Spirit announced her yesterday as one of their discovery players. She was brought up in the Freedom’s hierarchy of youth teams and played for their W-League team. “I’ve been training with some of the Freedom girls who’ve been signed, like Kika and Lori. And I’ve been practicing with some of the local boys’ teams, just to keep sharp, just being ready. Just because I knew after the college draft I still wanted to go pro, so I just wanted to do everything in my power to be playing my best by the time preseason came up.” Asked what she’d like to tell the fans, she said, “Come to the games! It’s a great stadium. It’s a great atmosphere. We’re going to have a great team this year. It’s your chance to see national team players live, to see some youth stars. We really need you to support the league as much as possible and keep this one around as long as possible.“