Tori Huster of the Washington Spirit Credit: Xavi Dussaq

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Late last year, Washington Spirit midfielder Tori Huster told City Paper that she hoped the Spirit’s public ownership battle would be resolved soon. By soon, Huster clarified, she meant “like within a week.” Huster acknowledged that her timeline was wishful thinking, but said the longer the public and contentious ownership situation dragged out, the more potential problems it presented to the players. Important issues like where the Spirit will train and compete next season likely depends on who the owner will be. 

The team endured a tumultuous 2021 season en route to winning its first NWSL title. Former Spirit head coach Richie Burke was fired for cause after multiple former players accused him of verbal and emotional abuse, and an NWSL investigation into Burke and the team’s culture under Spirit controlling owner Steve Baldwin found that the club violated the league’s workplace and anti-harassment policies. Controversy has continued to swirl around the team as the ownership struggle continues.

“We’ve won 2021, and we celebrated that and we have that trophy on the shelf. But what’s next? We want 2022 to be successful, just like this year was successful in so many ways,” said Huster, who is also the president of the NWSL Players Association. “And we feel that we could potentially be crippled if ownership is not figured out soon.” 

On Tuesday, the ownership situation took another turn, when the Athletic reported that Spirit co-owner Y. Michele Kang has “potentially wrested control” of the franchise from fellow owners Baldwin and Bill Lynch. Kang reportedly did so by convincing eight of the Spirit’s debt-holders to convert their debt to equity. In a letter to the NWSL board obtained by the Washington Post, Kang wrote that through her purchase and conversion of Spirit investor Devin Talbott’s promissory note and conversion of notes of others investors, her group now controls “a majority of the units of the team’s LLC.” Kang added that Baldwin “no longer has control of the team or the ability to dictate terms of any sale.” 

“I’m confident that our women-led, locally based ownership group will deliver the change that is needed at the Spirit, while remaining a collaborative contributor to the League,” Kang wrote.

Asked about the recent reports on Kang, a Spirit spokesperson tells City Paper, “We do not have any comment at this time.”

In mid December, the NWSL announced that a proposed ownership group led by retail executive Jennifer Tepper Mackesy and Los Angeles Lakers, Sparks, and Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly had entered “exclusive negotiations” to finalize acquisition of the Spirit. The team’s players and many of its fans have called for Baldwin to sell the team to Kang, saying she is the person they trust to own and lead the franchise. That appears to be closer to reality than before, but the Athletic reported that several elements of any potential deal, including Kang’s, would still need approval from the NWSL board of governors.

Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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