To describe the Washington Spirit's 2013 as dismal might be generous. The Spirit couldn't win, couldn't score goals, couldn't defend, and even managed to get themselves officially eliminated from playoff contention on an own goal because of course that's what the Washington Spirit did. The good news? It's almost impossible that 2014 could be any worse. And Mark Parsons and his staff took some big steps in the offseason to ensure that it won't be.
Head Coach: Mark Parsons, second season
Where we left off: Dead last. A 3-14-5 record in 2013 put Washington so far at the bottom of the table that the SoccerPlex might as well have been deep enough into the center of the earth to only be accessible via Ms. Frizzle's Magic School Bus.
Getting over being "over it": Ashlyn Harris and Chantel Jones both return, and Washington also added former Portland backup Adelaide Gay. Despite the on-paper numbers, goalkeeping was probably the least concerning thing about the 2013 Spirit, and the place where Parsons didn't really need to tinker. Ashlyn Harris will make saves, and they will all look really freaking dramatic because that is what Ashlyn Harris does and will continue to do.
No. 1 pick: Defensively, the 2013 Spirit were pretty much a complete mess. Washington allowed a league-worst 39 goals and struggled to get out of their own way with alarming frequency. But it wasn't all for naught -- the Spirit landed the No. 1 pick in the 2014 College Draft, a selection Parsons wisely used on Crystal Dunn. The North Carolina product may technically be a rookie, but she's also earned her way into the USWNT rotation, with eight caps over the past year. Dunn made a seamless transition into the senior national team, and should have no problem doing the same entering her first pro season. She'll join the returning Ali Krieger, Tori Huster, Toni Pressley and Robin Gayle in the Spirit's defensive corps.
Jordan Angeli is back on the field: It's been four years since Jordan Angeli won over just about everyone with a seven-goal rookie season for the Boston Breakers. It's been three years since Jordan Angeli broke the hearts of just about everyone with a torn ACL in the first game of the 2011 season. It's also been that long since Angeli has played a professional game, but the now-former Breaker is finally ready to return to the field, and she'll be doing it in a Spirit kit. It's of course been a long time since Angeli last played, but even with just some of what made her such a huge part of that 2010 Breakers team, the Spirit have already made a major midfield upgrade. And Angeli is not the only upgrade Washington's made in the offseason. Parsons also scooped up Yael Averbuch, who's been playing professionally in Sweden and had become enough of a mainstay on Tom Sermanni's version of the USWNT (R.I.P.) to earn allocated player status in the NWSL. Averbuch brings some serious creativity and a lot of skill to a Spirit midfield that's also added Christine Nairn. Lori Lindsey and Diana Matheson, who carried much of the offensive weight for the Spirit in 2013, both return, and they'll finally have some help.
Because they really only scored 16 goals in 2013. Total.: The midfield wasn't the only place Washington made some major changes. The Spirit also nabbed a trio of forwards, picking up Danesha Adams from Sky Blue FC, Tiffany Weimer from Portland and Renae Cuellar from FC Kansas City via Seattle. The Spirit did lose Stephanie Ochs, but the three players Washington acquired combined for nine goals in 2013, which is more than half of what the entire Spirit team managed to score last season. And yeah, nine goals from three strikers combined is still not a great number, but it's something, especially considering Cuellar's five goals came in only 11 appearances and Weimer played just 10 times for the Thorns. The real question will be Adams, who netted just three goals through 20 games last season in New Jersey.
In conclusion: A year ago we were asking where Washington's goals were going to come from. And then that they never really came was kind of a sad "I told you so" that no one wanted to really say. A season later, the Spirit finally have an answer -- and more than one. So really, maybe Washington has already won.