Estefania Banini, a nuanced Argentine attacker who led the Washington Spirit in scoring during a run to the National Women’s Soccer League final last year, will rejoin the struggling club after spending the past season with Spanish side Valencia.
She’ll become eligible to play when her visa and international transfer certificate are finalized, a process that doesn’t usually take more than a couple weeks, at the most.
“I am very happy and grateful to be part of the Washington Spirit again,” she said Monday in a prepared statement. “I wish to help them in the best way, and for that I will train very hard. While I already know the team, all experiences are different and I’m coming with great enthusiasm.”
Banini, who turns 27 on Wednesday, scored five goals in 13 regular season appearances (nine starts) and displayed creativity and technical skill in an injury-plagued 2016 campaign. All of her goals came in a seven-game stretch. After the season, amid a roster overhaul, she decided to play overseas. The Spirit retained her NWSL rights.
Back in Washington, she is expected to serve in the playmaker’s role and collaborate with Mallory Pugh, 19, the U.S. national team’s rising star who spurned NCAA soccer to sign with the league last month. Banini will also reunite with Nigerian national team forward Francisca Ordega.
In the long term, the Spirit is hoping that Crystal Dunn, a U.S. national team forward and 2015 NWSL MVP, returns to the club sometime next season. She signed a multiyear deal with English club Chelsea early this year, but Washington kept her league rights.
“Having Estefi return to the Spirit is something we were hopeful would happen last fall,” said Jim Gabarra, the Spirit’s head coach and general manager. “We’re looking forward to having her back in our lineup and continuing her impressive development. Her impact will be a big asset.”
The Spirit (2-5-2) is in eighth place in the 10-team league and, despite scoring the fifth-most goals, is last in shots and shots on goal. Washington will host the Portland Thorns (4-2-3) on Saturday night at Maryland SoccerPlex.