Washington Spirit fires coach Kris Ward


Less than a year after coaching the Washington Spirit from ruin to its first National Women’s Soccer League championship, Kris Ward was fired Monday amid a 15-game winless streak.

The Spirit (1-6-9) has not won since the May 1 opener, a spectacular fall after the team turned off-field turmoil into a 20-game unbeaten streak (excluding two forfeits for violating pandemic protocols) that bridged the offseason.

The organization announced the move in a tweet Monday morning but did not issue any additional comment. Reached directly, Ward said he did not want to comment.

The Spirit plans to name an interim coach, pending background checks, a process that will take at least a week. Angela Salem, a first-year assistant who retired as a player before this season, will run practices and presumably oversee Saturday’s match at Houston.

Paul Crichton and Calle Brown also remain on the staff.

Mark Krikorian — the Spirit’s president of soccer operations and general manager who won three NCAA championships coaching Florida State before departing early this year — is not expected to replace Ward, a person close to the situation said.

Ward’s relationship with several players had deteriorated this year, three people familiar with the situation said. Over the weekend, after a conflict at practice, Ward was disinvited from a team retreat, one person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Given the team’s record, Ward was not expected to be retained next season, that person said, and the locker room dynamic accelerated the process. “Things were going nowhere,” the person said.

Despite employing the most U.S. national team players in the NWSL — seven were on the squad at the Concacaf W Championship last month in Mexico, and six were named Monday to the roster for two friendlies vs. Nigeria — Washington is tied for last in the 12-team league. It needs to win its final six games to have any chance of qualifying for the six-team playoffs.

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Ward’s ouster comes a little over a year after the Spirit suspended Richie Burke, whom it later fired. In a Washington Post story, former players accused Burke of verbal and emotional abuse. An assistant at the time, Ward was appointed interim coach by then-majority owner Steve Baldwin.

Credited with stabilizing the team and restoring confidence, Ward guided the Spirit to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and three postseason victories, culminating with a 2-1 extra-time triumph over the Chicago Red Stars for the team’s first trophy since the NWSL launched in 2013.

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He also publicly backed efforts by NWSL players to receive better treatment and gain greater power after multiple coaches were fired for inappropriate behavior. Ward spoke eloquently on the topic and, during games, wore T-shirts with slogans supporting the cause.

After winning the championship, he was rewarded with a two-year guaranteed contract, plus a one-year club option, to become the permanent coach.

After the season, under pressure from players and fans, Baldwin sold his stake in the team to co-owner Y. Michele Kang.

Washington returned almost its entire roster this year, but a congested early schedule, complicated by the team advancing to the preseason Challenge Cup final, seemed to set the Spirit back. Injuries and national team call-ups contributed, though the Spirit also struggled to regain the attacking form it displayed late last year and squandered several late-game leads.

In the most recent match, against the first-place Portland Thorns, Washington conceded two goals in the waning moments at home and lost, 2-1.

Ward’s dismissal was the latest change since Kang gained control. Ben Olsen, who was hired by Baldwin, stepped down as team president in the spring after Kang asked him to relinquish his executive role for a technical position.

Krikorian, one of the most successful college coaches in the country, was hired in June. Assistant coach Lee Nguyen, a former MLS star who had been hired by Olsen late last season, left the club this month and resumed his playing career in Vietnam.

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