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By Owen Krucoff and Jordan Viener
Boyds, Md., (7/10/19) – The Spirit have been bolstered this season by new additions on and off the field. Much attention has been given to the new players and coaches who have helped lead the team’s rise up the standings, but the team’s ten returning players have provided a spark of their own.
From longtime club stalwarts to World Cup stars, this group of returners has the Spirit firing on all cylinders as the season nears its midway point.
You can’t talk about players with experience on the Spirit without mentioning Huster. As the only player to feature for the Spirit in every season of the club’s existence, Huster is both a regular starter and veteran leader for this year’s team. She eclipsed the 10,000-minute mark for her Spirit career earlier this season, and despite being primarily a defender, she has put in time at every position on the field besides goalkeeper.
Huster came to Washington in the NWSL’s Supplemental Draft before the league’s inaugural season in 2013. Aside from offseason loan moves to two different teams in Australia, she has never represented any other club in her professional career. Huster was the minutes leader for the 2016 Spirit side that reached the NWSL Championship.
Lavelle joined the Spirit before the 2018 season as the top pick in the NWSL Dispersal Draft, and has risen to national and international stardom over the last season and a half.
Lavelle has consistently progressed within the U.S. national team picture since joining Washington, culminating in her winning the Bronze Ball Award as the third-best player at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Her outstanding solo goal in the final victory over the Netherlands was one of the most memorable moments of the tournament.
ROSE. LAVELLE. 🌹🇺🇸
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 7, 2019
At 24 years old, Lavelle was one of the youngest major contributors in the World Cup squad, and she looks set for more national team success in the years to come. She has yet to make an impact for the Spirit this year due to her national team commitments, but after proving herself on soccer’s biggest stage this summer, she will counted on to bolster the Washington midfield.
With two full NWSL seasons under her belt at just 21 years old, Pugh is one of the brightest young talents not just within the United States, but around the world. She has been a regular national team call-up for over three years and she scored in her first-ever World Cup game, the record-breaking 13-0 triumph over Thailand last month.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 11, 2019
Pugh recorded an assist in the Spirit’s season opener this year against Sky Blue FC, giving her a total of eight goals and three assists in her Spirit career. She will look to add to those numbers soon as she rejoins the team following her World Cup journey.
Last year Aubrey Bledsoe had a fantastic season capped by breaking the record for the most saves in a single season by an NWSL keeper. Bledsoe has built upon her success this year as arguably the best keeper in the league. The Ohio native is second in the league in clean sheets with five. She also leads the league in saves with 49 on the season despite not making a save against the Houston Dash on June 22.
Below is a chart displaying the league save leaders from week four to the present:
In addition to leading the league in saves, Bledsoe has piled up the accolades.
This has been a career year for Bledsoe that has put her firmly in the running for goalkeeper of the year.
Midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard has been in the Spirit’s system for six years now. If her play is any indication she isn’t going anywhere. Despite an influx of talent to the Spirit midfield, Dougherty Howard has been one of the most consistent players on the Spirit roster.
In terms of the midfield, it is easy to see why she continues to be a stalwart of the team. Dougherty Howard ranks first on the team in pass accuracy, in the midfield she ranks second in shots on target, and fourth in both minutes played and touches. Look for Dougherty Howard to continue to be a critical rotation player as world cup players return to the roster.
Midfielder Andi Sullivan has lived up to her former first overall draft pick status. Last year Sullivan was second in rookie of the year voting, a very strong first step to her career. This season her level of play has advanced to becoming an elite talent on the Spirit and in the NWSL as a whole.
The DMV native also notched her first career goal in June’s game against Reign FC.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) June 16, 2019
Sullivan’s improvement and high level of play was recognized as the media named her to June’s NWSL Team of the Month.
Despite missing four games for World Cup duty, forward Cheyna Matthews is tied for the team lead in goals. Her .42 goals per game average ranks leads the Spirit and is among the best per-game averages in the NWSL.
Matthews returned to the starting line up with a bang last week against the Orlando Pride as she notched her third goal of the season, as well as her second assist.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) July 7, 2019
Matthews also represented Jamaica on the World Cup stage last month. She started two of the Reggae Girlz three games and was on the field as Jamaica scored the first Carribean goal in FIFA Women’s World Cup history.
Matthews spoke on what an honor it was to represent her parents native country: “It’s a huge honor, anytime you can represent a country that has so much of your heritage and so much of your roots, anytime you can do that you wanna put your best foot forward.”
Hatch is in her second season with the Spirit and has been the team’s leading scorer since her arrival. After winning the club’s Golden Boot Award in 2018, she is tied for the team lead with three goals so far this season.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) May 26, 2019
Her electric run of form earlier this season coincided with the team’s surge up the NWSL standings. She scored in three consecutive games during the club record seven-game unbeaten run that saw the Spirit establish themselves in the league playoff race. The stretch included two NWSL Goal of the Week nominations for Hatch.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) June 1, 2019
In her fourth season with the club forward Cali Farquharson is one of the longest-tenured players for the Spirit.
Farquharson notched the first two points of her career earlier this season with assists against Sky Blue and Reign FC.
In addition to her on-field success, the Arizona native has become an important off the field leader and role model to younger players. “Now that I’m a veteran, I’ve been here a few years, I kind of know the ropes and I’m able to help the younger girls because I didn’t necessarily have all the help I needed at their age,” Farquharson said. “I had to learn a lot on my own, so I hope I can be a good mentor to them.”
Ship, a forward, is in her third year with the Spirit after being traded from Reign FC before her rookie season in 2017. She missed most of 2018 recovering from a knee injury but has bounced back this year, playing over 200 minutes in four games so far.
Ship provided the assist for an Ashley Hatch goal at the Chicago Red Stars on May 26 that would be nominated for NWSL Goal of the Week.
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) May 26, 2019
The Spirit have a bye this week, but will return to action against the Houston Dash on July 20. Kickoff at the Maryland SoccerPlex is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, with Gate D and the Fan Zone opening at 5:30 p.m. ET for all ticket-holding fans. [TICKETS]
The Spirit will also host two upcoming games at Audi Field in the District. Alex Morgan and the Orlando Pride will come to town on August 24 [TICKETS], and Megan Rapinoe and Reign FC will visit on September 14 [TICKETS].