The Washington Spirit is on the verge of trading Canadian national team midfielder Diana Matheson, the latest in a series of roster jolts since the National Women’s Soccer League championship game three months ago.
The Insider learned Saturday that the organization is working on final details and could announce a deal within a week. Trade specifics were still evolving this weekend, but Washington was looking to acquire a young player, draft pick and perhaps other considerations.
A tentative agreement appeared in place weeks ago with the 2016 champion Western New York Flash, which was based near Matheson’s home town in the Toronto area. But when the 2016 champions announced they were relocating to North Carolina, the trade proposal was scrapped and the Spirit turned its attention elsewhere.
Jim Gabarra, who is entering his second season as Washington general manager and head coach, declined to comment.
Matheson would become the fourth prominent player and sixth regular to depart the Spirit this offseason. Captain Ali Krieger was traded to Orlando, 2015 league MVP Crystal Dunn signed with Chelsea (England) and leading scorer Estefania Banini signed with Valencia (Spain). Midfielder Christine Nairn was shipped to Seattle at her request and defender Megan Oyster was dealt to Boston for two likely starters.
Trading Matheson would leave midfielder Tori Huster as the only holdover from the 2013 inaugural squad.
Matheson, who will turn 33 in April, has made 63 appearances and 56 starts in becoming the Spirit’s career scoring leader with 23 goals (despite missing almost all of the 2015 season recovering from a knee injury). She has won two Olympic bronze medals with Canada and served on four World Cup squads.
However, her vision of her place in the Spirit’s plans next season apparently differs with that of the technical staff, which sees her as a role player nearing the end of her career, not a starter.
Although player discontent soured an otherwise bright season, each departure has come under different circumstances.
In Krieger’s case, she did not see eye to eye with Gabarra and owner Bill Lynch. Furthermore, it was unclear whether she would remain a contracted U.S. national team player, a designation in which her salary is underwritten by the U.S. Soccer Federation. Without that status, the Spirit would’ve been responsible for her entire salary. Management apparently didn’t believe it should commit such money to a 32-year-old defender.
Still, the trade of a hometown star and the franchise’s most popular figure did not yield any players in return and didn’t sit well with the fan base, which took to social media to express shock and disappointment. Some, sources said, have declined to renew their season ticket packages.
Dunn, a fast-emerging star on the U.S. national team who led the NWSL in scoring in 2015, chose to pursue fresh opportunities. She was not as disenchanted with the Spirit as Krieger and might’ve left under even the best of circumstances in Washington.
With Krieger and Dunn out, the Spirit roster does not feature anyone from the U.S. national team, a group of some two-dozen elite players that forms the foundation of the 10-team league. The earlier trades did provide the No. 1 slot in the league’s distribution ranking order, which the league uses to assign incoming national team players.
According to multiple sources, Washington has targeted Stanford junior midfielder Andi Sullivan, a Hermann Trophy finalist from Lorton, Va. However, the rising national team prospect tore her ACL in the NCAA tournament in November and seems likely to remain in college.
Knee injuries have affected the Spirit in other ways. Kelsey Wys, the starting goalkeeper in the final, tore an ACL in November while on loan in the Australian league and is sidelined indefinitely. The other experienced goalie, Canadian bronze medalist Stephanie Labbe, was prepared to leave Washington after losing her starting job following the Olympics. But the club has apparently smoothed ruffled feathers and persuaded her to return.
Forward Cali Farquharson is recovering from an ACL injury suffered in September and defender Caprice Dydasco tore the same ligament during the NWSL final a month later.
Complicating Spirit roster matters is the labor dispute between the national team players and USSF. The sides remain locked in negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement. The pact expired Dec. 31 and the previous terms have, for now, carried over.
Without a new CBA, national team player contracts and future allocations remain in limbo. Washington will remain in the No. 1 position in the distribution ranking order until it utilizes or trades the slot before the late-season roster freeze.
NWSL teams are slated to open training camp around March 13 and start the regular season April 15-16. Each will play 24 matches, an increase of four over the previous two years.