Washington Spirit players have taken issue with their owner’s decision to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” while the teams were in the locker room Wednesday, a move that thwarted Seattle star Megan Rapinoe’s plan to kneel during the anthem.

In a statement posted on the team’s website Friday, the players said: “We respect our owner’s freedom to share his views and we understand his intentions. But as a team we don’t necessarily agree with those opinions or the actions taken on Wednesday evening.

“We believe in freedom of speech and expression as long as it’s respectfully demonstrated, even when we don’t agree on every issue. As a team, we were disappointed we were not informed of the plans for the national anthem or given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision.”

The Spirit and Reign had completed warmups at Maryland SoccerPlex and returned to their respective locker rooms for final preparations when they were told the anthem had been played without them on the field. Spirit owner Bill Lynch took the action because he disagreed with what he called Rapinoe’s “method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal — albeit worthy — cause.”

After the match, Rapinoe blasted Lynch, who has owned the Spirit since the National Women’s Soccer League launched in 2013. Through a team spokeswoman, the Spirit players said they would only discuss the match itself.

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In their statement Friday, though, the players said: “We are aware you have concerns over events surrounding our September 7 match against the Seattle Reign at the SoccerPlex that have shone a negative light on our organization and league.

“We want to share that in the last 48 hours we have met as a team, with coaches, and with ownership. While our primary job is to play soccer, we do not take social issues lightly and we care deeply about the growth and success of the NWSL.

“Our team is made up of diverse backgrounds and opinions. In fact, we believe this is a large part of why we have been so successful on the field this season. We come from many countries, ethnicities, and cultures. We proudly support and respect each other as individuals.”

The players were also disappointed that Lynch’s actions drew attention away from the match, something that Lynch was initially concerned Rapinoe would do. The first-place Spirit won, 2-1, to clinch home-field advantage in the NWSL playoffs.

“We regret that a historic accomplishment for the club was overshadowed by decisions that had nothing to do with the match,” the statement read. “The chance to fully celebrate this achievement with our supporters and staff was taken from us. There are so many positive stories that should have been highlighted. It saddens us that these were lost in the moment.”

Lynch said Friday that the players are “completely justified to be upset and frustrated that we are talking about Megan and I rather than their accomplishments this season.  They have worked incredibly hard as a team and deserve better.”

The players went on to say: “We want to assure our supporters that we remain solely focused on the same goal we had at the start of the season – winning an NWSL championship. We have never wavered in our efforts to reach our goals. We are so proud to be in the position we are in and we are determined to succeed.”

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush, who attended the match and was unaware of Lynch’s plans, said Wednesday that he was disappointed that Lynch had taken the action before discussing it with the league and teams. It’s unclear whether the NWSL will penalize the Spirit organization.

Lynch’s full statement to the Insider:

This is a team of diverse professional athletes with strong opinions and character who want to focus on the game and the sport.  When I chose to play the national anthem early to avoid any show of what I believe is disrespectful to millions of people in this country, they were thrown into the middle of it.  They are completely justified to be upset and frustrated that we are talking about Megan and I rather than their accomplishments this season.  They have worked incredibly hard as a team and deserve better.
As I’ve said previously, I did what I believed to be the right thing. There was no attempt to suppress the conversation on the issue of equality or any other issue for that matter.  It is my strong belief that we should have those conversations outside of the brief moments we take to honor our fallen and their contributions to our collective freedoms.
I fully realize the players also want to see attention put on some of the same issues that Megan does and agree there are critical issues we should be talking about.  As I’ve also said previously I understand and respect that, while feeling the need to balance my own objectives of showing the utmost respect for our veterans and honoring our national anthem.  I’d love to see us start and continue a conversation without involving the national anthem.
I wish my team and the NWSL the best this weekend.  I hope we can begin talking about these amazing athletes in an incredibly competitive and exciting league and the many stories of what they have accomplished.

The Spirit and Reign will meet again Sunday night in Seattle.

Washington will host a semifinal Sept. 30 or Oct. 1.