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 season opener May 1, 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 could take a few weeks. Angela Salem, a first-year assistant, will run practices and presumably oversee Saturday’s match at Houston.
Spirit General Manager Mark Krikorian, who won three NCAA championships coaching Florida State before departing early this year, is not expected to replace Ward, one person close to the situation said.
Ward’s relationship with several players had been deteriorating this year, two people familiar with the situation said. Over the weekend, after a conflict at practice, Ward was disinvited from a team retreat, one person said, requesting anonymity to speak on the matter.
Ward’s ouster comes a little more than a year after the Spirit suspended, and later fired, Richie Burke after allegations of verbally abusing players surfaced in a Washington Post story. An assistant at the time, Ward was appointed interim coach.
From the archives: Players say they left NWSL’s Spirit over Richie Burke’s verbal abuse
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 Chicago in Louisville.
He also publicly supported the Spirit players in gaining greater power in the league and the sports world, speaking eloquently on the topic and wearing T-shirts with slogans supporting their cause.
Ward was rewarded with a two-year guaranteed contract, plus a one-year club option, to become the permanent coach.
Washington returned almost its entire roster this year, but a congested early schedule, injuries and national team call-ups set the team back. The Spirit, though, also struggled to regain the attacking form that it displayed late last year and, defensively, it squandered several late-game leads.
In its most recent match, against the first-place Portland Thorns, Washington conceded two goals in the waning moments at home and lost, 2-1.
Washington is tied for last in the 12-team league and needs to win its final six games to have any chance of qualifying for the six-team playoffs.
This is a developing story and will be updated.