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Washington Spirit owner in talks about selling majority share of NWSL club

Members of the Washington Spirit working out at Maryland SoccerPlex. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Bill Lynch, who has owned the Washington Spirit since the National Women’s Soccer League launched in 2013, is in talks about selling a majority stake in the organization to local tech executive Steve Baldwin.

“We don’t have a final agreement but have had positive discussions,” said Lynch, who, according to one person with knowledge of the talks, would retain close to a 50 percent share in the team. “It’s a little premature for an announcement.”

Baldwin, an Oakton resident who is chief executive of Reston-based Qbase, did not reply to an email message seeking comment.

If a deal is struck, people familiar with the situation said, Baldwin would seek to upgrade the Spirit’s operations at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County and perhaps play additional matches at Audi Field, D.C. United’s new stadium in the southwest sector of the District. The Spirit played once there this summer.

Baldwin would also have final say on the appointment of a new head coach. Two sources said he prefers Richie Burke, a longtime area youth coach who has worked for D.C. United, coached Scottish club Livingston and guided the National Cathedral School’s girls' team.

Burke did not return a message seeking comment.

Tom Torres was promoted to interim head coach in late August after Jim Gabarra’s dismissal amid a two-win season.

The candidates' list has included several NWSL assistants and an international coach, Spirit President Chris Hummer said last week. He was not available to comment this week.

Washington made the playoffs between 2014 and 2016, culminating with an appearance in the championship game two years ago. However, the Spirit was last in the league in 2017 and, despite the presence of U.S. national team prospects Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan, the club battled injuries this summer and finished next to last with a 2-17-5 record.

In its history, the Spirit has averaged about 3,700 fans for home matches, a figure that is close to the break-even point for Lynch, whose organization also runs a substantial youth development program.

The appearance at Audi Field attracted a franchise-record 7,976, though renting the 20,000-seat stadium was much more expensive than playing at SoccerPlex.

Lynch has been actively involved in the team, attending most home games and addressing the players on occasion. He caused a stir in September 2016 when, faced with the prospects of visiting player Megan Rapinoe kneeling during the national anthem at SoccerPlex, he instructed it to be played while the teams were still in their respective locker rooms.

Rapinoe and Spirit players criticized the decision.

Baldwin’s passion for the sport seems to run through his family. His daughter, Carlyn, played at the University of Tennessee and is a professional with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.

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