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NWSL Signs Network Contract Amid Washington Spirit’s Tumultuous Off-Season

As the popularity of the National Women’s Soccer League continues to increase, the league, last week, announced a new partnership with A+E Networks to have NWSL games broadcast every Saturday during the season on A+E’s Lifetime cable network. The move comes two weeks after the Washington Spirit, Germantown’s hometown professional team, traded yet another star and fan favorite away.

On Jan. 23, the Spirit announced that the team had traded Canada National Team midfielder Diana Matheson to the Seattle Reign FC in exchange for the rights to 2017 rookie Arielle Ship and a 2018 draft pick.

The move adds Matheson to the list of Spirit players who helped the team make it to the NWSL Championship last season, but will not be with the team in the 2017 season. In November, the team traded captain and USWNT standout Ali Krieger to Orlando. Shortly after that, the team traded starting midfielder, and fan favorite Christine Nairn to the Seattle Reign for a player and three draft picks. The Spirit also traded young defender Megan Oyster to the Boston Breakers. In January, it was announced that Crystal Dunn, the USWNT superstar, NWSL Golden Boot, NWSL MVP winner, would not return to the Spirit as she had signed with Chelsea Ladies FC in England. The Spirit have also lost last year’s leading scorer, Estefanía Banini, who has decided to play in Spain's Primera División club Valencia Féminas CF.

The Spirit scored 30 goals in the 2016 season, 15 came from Banini (5), Dunn (2), Nairn (3), Matheson (4), and Krieger (1).

During her 67 appearances with the Spirit, Matheson notched 23 goals and 12 assists, both club records. Her 23 goals is tied for ninth all-time in the league. Despite missing time to win her second consecutive Olympic bronze medal with Canada in 2016, the Oakville, Ontario native scored four goals in the NWSL, tied for second on the Spirit. The Canada National Team veteran has been a member of four FIFA Women’s World Cup teams (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015) and three Olympic teams (2008, 2012, 2016).

“I want to thank Diana for all she has invested in our club,” said Spirit general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “She has been a true professional and contributed in many ways to the growth, development, and success of our team.”

Holding midfielder Tori Huster, who recently signed a new contract with the Spirit, is now the lone remaining original Spirit player. The 27-year-old Ohio native and former Florida State star leads the only NWSL club she’s ever played for in appearances and minutes played.

Ship joins a draft class of attacking players for the Spirit all battling for the opportunity to fill the shoes of Matheson, Dunn, and 2016 draftee Cali Farquharson, who is recovering from a late-season ACL tear. Farquharson should return before the end of the 2017 season, while Dunn is expected back in Washington in 2018.

The Spirit draft class includes Lindsay Agnew, who played at Ohio State University and was recently called up to the Canadian National Women’s Team. The forward Lindsay Agnew was selected by the Spirit with 19th overall pick. Agnew represented Canada at the 2012 U-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup. She led Ohio State in 2016 with ten goals and eight assists. Agnew concluded her college career with 19 assists, 55 points, and 17 career goals.

With the No. 29 overall pick, the Spirit chose midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard. Dougherty Howard is no stranger to the Spirit, having played for the Washington Spirit Reserves for the past two seasons, including winning the USL W-League Championship in 2015. During the 2016 collegiate season, the Florida Gator started every match at defensive midfield and led her team with 12 assists, and tied for second in goals (8). Dougherty Howard was named the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

With the club’s final pick of the draft, the Spirit chose midfielder Cameron Castleberry from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with the No. 36 overall selection. Castleberry was UNC’s starter at central attacking midfielder during the team’s run to the 2016 College Cup. The Raleigh, NC native is a former member of the US U20, U18, and U17 Women’s National Team player pools.

The addition of Ship gives the Spirit a great youth movement. Ship was the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2015 and finished her career at Cal with 29 goals and 14 assists. “Ari is a player we believe can come in and challenge immediately for a starting spot just about anywhere in our attacking end,” Gabarra explained. “She’s a very creative player who provides that double threat of either providing a goal or scoring one herself. Ari is someone we feel has a long future as a professional, so this is another player who has the ability to contribute to the Spirit for many years to come.”

The new look Spirit lineup will compete in a league which will have a greater presence on the national scene. The NWSL’s deal with Lifetime Network gives fans easier access to the league and women’s soccer on a weekly basis.

Lifetime will become an official sponsor and broadcast partner of the League in a three-year deal, beginning in April. The strategic investment is accompanied by the creation of a new joint venture, NWSL Media, and marks a watershed moment in the league’s history that will bolster the league’s growth and support of the teams, players and fans.

“As a former college athlete, I know the importance of sports in the lives of women and girls and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join forces with NWSL and U.S. Soccer to ensure professional women athletes are elevated as the entire country can watch and be inspired by their strength and athleticism. The teams are filled with some of the best professional players in the world, and we are proud to welcome them to Lifetime,” said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO, A+E Networks.

“This is a transformational partnership in the evolution of the league, and we are so appreciative of Nancy Dubuc and her team at A+E Networks as they take a leadership position in the growth of our league and create opportunities for young women,” NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said. “We are also extremely pleased to be able to present our fans with the most comprehensive national television and streaming packages in our history.”

NWSL Media, the new joint venture between the NWSL and A+E Networks, will act as the media and commercial arm of the league, overseeing all of its global broadcast and sponsorship rights. In addition, NWSL Media will manage all digital assets for the NWSL including a re-designed NWSLSoccer.com, a new NWSL app on iOS and Android, and the league’s social media platforms.

NWSL Media will oversee the live streaming of all matches and produce the games in high definition with a consistent, state-of-the-art approach that will include exclusive new and original digital content for pre-game, halftime and post-game segments. The joint venture is currently negotiating with potential partners to stream the games not broadcast on Lifetime.

Lifetime, the premier entertainment destination for women, is making an unprecedented commitment with a three-year agreement to be the official broadcast partner. For the first time in NWSL’s history, a league game will be broadcast on television every weekend of the season. The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will provide fans throughout the country with a live viewing platform every Saturday at 4:00 pm to watch the best players in the world. A pre-game show will kick off each weekly event at 3:30 pm. Showcasing the network’s sponsorship and commitment to the league, Lifetime will be featured on all official jerseys with a patch on the right sleeve.

“This partnership is not only tremendously significant in the continued growth of the NWSL, but representative of how far the league has come in four years and where it can go in the future,” said US Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “A+E and its resources are a fantastic fit for women’s professional soccer and will have a major impact on continuing to raise the profile of what we feel is already the best and most competitive league in the world.”

Established as an eight-team league, the NWSL has expanded twice – with the Houston Dash entering the league for the 2014 season, and the Orlando Pride added ahead of the 2016 campaign. The league will welcome a new fan base in 2017 with the 2016 NWSL Champions the Western New York Flash relocating to become the North Carolina Courage for the upcoming season.


Top: Spirit fan favorite Diana Matheson (8) has been traded to Seattle Reign FC. Photo by Germantown Pulse.

Next: During her 67 appearances with the Spirit, Matheson (8) scored 23 goals and recorded 12 assists, both club records.

Next: The Spirit have also resigned midfielder Tori Huster (23). Photo by Germantown Pulse.

Next: Spirit 2017 first round draft pick Lindsay Agnew, who played at Ohio State University.

Next: The NWSL and A+E Networks have entered a historic partnership whereby A+E Networks will become the league’s newest investor with an equity stake in the National Women’s Soccer League. Photo courtesy NWSL.

Next: The Spirit have announced they have resigned defender Caprice Dydasco (3). Photo by Germantown Pulse.

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