Projected 2013 Washington Spirit Lineup (Questionable Starters in Parentheses)
Candace Chapman – D
Canadian was a shocking omission from her nation’s list of funded players and will undoubtedly be looking to get back in the good graces of John Herdman after a hamstring injury curtailed her run at the London Olympics. Did a whole lot of winning in WPS, picking up winner’s medals with FC Gold Pride and WNY Flash in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Capable as a right-back or center-back in defense, but with Ali Krieger’s presence here, Chapman figures to be deployed in central defense in all likelihood. With little in the way of other recognized center-backs until Alina Garciamendez joins mid-season, Chapman will have a hell of a task on her hand to try and stabilize the Spirit’s backline. On such a young team, Chapman’s experience and leadership should be crucial for any postseason aspirations.
Chantel Jones – GK
Veteran of the U.S. youth international system gets her first shot at the top level domestically after a stint in Iceland last year with Thor. Was wildly inconsistent early in college career before steadying a bit as a senior for a powerful Virginia side. Great size and shot stopping ability bodes well, though Jones can be hasty off her line and may need improved decision making and distribution to develop into a starter at this level. Seasoning in Europe last year likely helped her growth dramatically, and Jones will likely be the favorite to be Ashlyn Harris’ understudy this season for the Spirit.
Kika Toulouse – D
Arguably Washington’s most surprising free agent signing, Toulouse didn’t make it past the first set of cuts with Sky Blue FC in WPS in 2011 but comes back for another shot at the top level after playing in Sweden for a spell. Another talent from the conveyor belt of pro prospects at Virginia, Toulouse also is a veteran of the U.S. youth international system, having featured for the U23 team in the past. With the club looking bare bones at the back at the moment, Toulouse looks like the early favorite to feature for the Spirit at left-back, especially with the appearance of nothing in the way of natural rivals at the position on the roster at the moment seemingly.
Ingrid Wells – M
One of the collegiate game’s best pure playmakers of the past decade, Wells will look to bring her talents back home to the nation’s capital this season. Before a relatively anonymous stint in Sweden with Goteborg last year, Wells had more than lived up to her “Little General” nickname for the hometown Georgetown Hoyas, being the center of a Golden Generation for the Big East club, nearly guiding them to the College Cup in 2010. Displayed tremendous field vision and passing ability at college and youth international level, with leadership skill and the talent to score goals by the hatful in her own right. Faces a crowded field in the center of midfield for the Spirit this year, but for pure playmaking skill, Wells is likely the club’s top option heading into 2013.
1. Stephanie Ochs – F/M
First overall pick in the Supplemental Draft has superstar potential and has seen her stock soar since winning MVP honors at the recently concluded La Manga Tournament with the U.S. U23 team. Was a high riser as a senior in college with San Diego a few years ago, including an incredible run late in the year to help propel the Toreros to a share of the WCC title. That run was noted for a long streak of games with an assist to her name, showing Ochs is plenty capable of influencing the game when she isn’t scoring herself. Got some seasoning and more success with WNY Flash in WPSL Elite last season and will likely need to have a big presence in the offense this year for the Spirit to contend for the postseason.
9. Tori Huster – M
Hammer and nails midfielder was a favorite at Florida State for her energy and drive and could again be a crowd pleaser in the nation’s capital thanks to those qualities. Had a real busy season last year despite WPS collapse, as Huster spent the Summer picking up a winner’s medal for WPSL Elite champions WNY Flash and then jetted off to play for Newcastle Jets in the Australian W-League in the Winter months. Versatility and ability to play in multiple positions should hold her in good stead of making the final cut here, though her likeliest role seems to be as an all-energy player in the center of the park. Faces a crowded field in D.C. with plenty of midfield competition, but above versatility and last year’s experience should help her cause.
17. Jordan Angeli – M
Hard luck midfielder looked well on the road to becoming a star in Boston for the Breakers in 2011 before tearing her ACL for the third time against Atlanta early in the final WPS season. Long treatment and recovery plan meant Angeli didn’t have surgery until this past October, and the former Santa Clara Bronco remains out indefinitely while she tries to rehab the knee. Being picked in the middle rounds of the supplemental draft was an enormous vote of confidence towards Angeli from the Spirit, and the hope is that the tenacious midfielder makes it to the nation’s capital sooner rather than later this year. Experience and steel in the middle of the park would be a huge plus for the young Spirit.
25. Natasha Kai – F
A divisive figure amongst the WoSo populace, Kai’s presence nonetheless might mean the difference between the playoff places and the cellar for the Spirit this year. The Hawaiian often blew hot and cold in her WPS stints with Sky Blue FC and Philadelphia, but when she was on, she was most definitely on, as could be seen with the latter in a productive 2011 campaign. Protracted injury struggles, including in a miserable 2010 season, have to be a worry though, and Kai comes into the new campaign coming off a knee injury that has her as a doubt to make opening day for the Spirit. With undeniable power, pace, and goalscoring ability though, Kai was a risk worth taking for the D.C. club, especially given the utter lack of experience up front on the roster going into 2013.
33. Megan Mischler – F
One of a good many youngsters trying to force their way into contention in the Spirit attack this year, though Mischler has a bit more top level experience than many of her rivals. After a solid career with West Virginia in the college ranks, Mischler proved to be a quick study at the next level, starring with the Boston Breakers’ reserve team in WPSL action in 2011, earning her a cup of coffee with the Breakers’ full team that season. Was most recently in Sweden, netting a handful of goals for Hammarby in a full season’s work. The rare left winger favoring her right foot, Mischler is versatile enough to play just about anywhere on the frontline or out wide in the middle of the park. That versatility should make her a prized asset off the bench or as a spot starter to fill holes in the lineup.
41. Heather Cooke – D
Though she’s most known for her Real World stint, Cooke previously had been one of the MAAC’s best defenders with local side Loyola (MD), including leading the Greyhounds into the NCAA Tournament as a senior. A center-back with size, Cooke also latched on with the Philippines’ WNT, hoping to help kick start the nation’s embryonic program at international level. Given her lack of professional pedigree, she’d normally be a longshot to make the club, but the Spirit aren’t exactly flush with defensive numbers right now, especially in the middle. That reality means Cooke should have a decent shot at sticking around unless the Spirit add significantly to their defensive ranks in the preseason.
Domenica Hodak – M
Hard nosed midfielder was thrown into central defense for Maryland as a senior, and though she was woefully undersized for the position, fared well for herself, helping lead the young Terps to a fine season. At the next level though, Hodak will probably be back to her usual role she filled for most of her time in college, namely trying to erase opposing playmakers from the equation. A starter for most of her four years in College Park, Hodak’s always played much bigger than her stat line would indicate, and the New Yorker probably would’ve stood a better chance of being drafted had she played at her best position as a senior. She’ll probably bring energy and bite from the bench late in games to start out with, but don’t count out the tenacious Hodak from winning a starting spot for the club somewhere down the line.
Julia Roberts – M
Another signee with extensive experience in the competitive cauldron of the ACC, Roberts took a while to get going with Virginia, but had a breakout 2011 campaign with seven goals and six assists. The superstar recruit had a down year last season though, scoring just once for the Cavs, perhaps also explaining why she went undrafted by clubs this year. Was a dynamo at youth level but never really rounded into an elite player at college level despite starting for three seasons for the ACC contenders. Played deep in midfield often for Virginia throughout her career, serving more in a regista role than out-and-out destroyer. Figures to play a more advanced role for the Spirit, though she faces serious competition for minutes in the middle of the park. Is lights out delivering set pieces, including being one of the best free kick takers to come out of college in recent seasons, with an ability to put vicious swerve on the ball at will.
What They Still Need
A couple of injury breaks to go their way. If the club can get Jordan Angeli and Natasha Kai, both supplemental draft selections, match fit, the Spirit’s short-term future gets a whole lot brighter. Besides being undeniably talented, the two also possess the top level experience this young bunch so desperately needs. The club has talented rookie Holly King, among others, to man the defensive midfield spot, but Angeli has proven she has what it takes at this level before in WPS. If she can return healthy, she could team up with King as a double pivot in midfield, or potentially facilitate a move for King to center-back until Alina Garciamendez arrives.
Kai would solve the club’s problem of experience up front. Without her, the most experienced forward currently on the preseason roster is twenty-three year old Megan Mischler, who’s just had a pair of pro seasons under her belt. There’s plenty of top line talent up front for the Spirit, but being so young, there are likely to be some teething issues while the group acclimates to this level. It’s much the same in midfield, where besides Angeli, the only real experience is from Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson, with another large cadre of youngsters looking to fill in the blanks.
The biggest worries look to be on the backline though, as the club looks stretched especially thin without Garciamendez for the opening weeks of the season. Ali Krieger is class, and Candace Chapman should be as well if healthy, but the second center-back spot and left-back spot are massive concerns, as is depth. Domenica Hodak, Tori Huster, and Holly King could all drop back into defense in an emergency, but it’s vital the club finds some depth there in the preseason.