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By Owen Krucoff and Jordan Viener
Boyds, Md., (7/12/19) – The transformation and turnaround of the Washington Spirit has been on of the biggest stories of this NWSL season. A plethora of new players have blended with a productive group of returning players under a revamped coaching staff to turn the Spirit back into a playoff contender.
With no Spirit game to look forward to this weekend, now is a good time to look back to 2018 and note some of the team’s biggest areas of improvement compared with a year ago today.
The most obvious shift in Washington’s fortunes this season has been the team’s position in the table. At this time a year ago, the Spirit were stuck in eighth place with two wins and 10 points from 16 games. This season, with only 11 matches in the books, the Spirit are in fourth with five wins and 18 points to their name already.
The team’s away form has improved as well. A year ago today, the Spirit were winless in eight road trips, but they now sit fifth in the away game table with two wins in just five contests.
Passing continues to be one of the calling cards of this year’s Spirit team. Washington has improved its accuracy rate from 70.4% (seventh in the league a year ago today) to 79.3% (best in the league right now). Similar gains have been in the opposition half, where the Spirit have also climbed from seventh to first in the accuracy table.
Individually, the Spirit had one player in the league’s top five for total passes a year ago. Today, an astounding three of the top five passers in the NWSL ply their trade for Washington. Rookie defender Sam Staab leads the way with 691 passes, followed by defender Paige Nielsen with 659. Midfielder Andi Sullivan is fourth in the league with 537.
The Spirit have more than doubled their goals per game average compared to a year ago, and a big reason for that has been the ability to make the most of their chances. The team’s shot conversion rate has ballooned from 7.1% last July to 16.3% so far this year. That jump has lifted the Spirit from ninth to second in the NWSL leaderboard for the statistic.
Spirit opponents have had a much tougher time scoring goals against Washington this season. After recording four shutouts in the first 16 games last season, the team has already kept five clean sheets in just 11 matches this time around. Goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe continues to impress as the NWSL’s save leader (49 so far), but the revamped back line has also had its way with opposing attackers, limiting their best chances to make things easier for the goalkeeper.
The Spirit will return to action at the Maryland SoccerPlex against the Houston Dash on July 20. Kickoff at the Maryland SoccerPlex is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, with a celebration in the works as midfielder Rose Lavelle and forward Mallory Pugh return from the World Cup. Gate D and the Fan Zone will open at 5:30 p.m. ET for all ticket-holding fans. [TICKETS]