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Washington Spirit forfeits second match, fined $25,000 after coronavirus outbreak

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The Washington Spirit will forfeit a second match and must pay a $25,000 fine, the National Women’s Soccer League said Thursday, an announcement that came after a coronavirus outbreak on the team earlier this month.

The forfeit, for a Sept. 4 match against the Portland Thorns that was initially postponed because of positive coronavirus tests among Spirit players, could seriously jeopardize Washington’s hopes of making the NWSL’s six-team playoffs. After a forfeit against OL Reign this past weekend, the Spirit sat in sixth place. With this forfeit, it appears the Spirit will fall into seventh place. Washington is tied with Houston at 6-7-5, but its goal differential just got worse than the Dash’s. In accordance with FIFA, both forfeits will be recorded as 3-0 losses for the Spirit.

In the wake of the outbreak ahead of the Portland game, the league found multiple coronavirus protocol violations, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Three players were found to have violated protocols, according to another person with knowledge of the situation.

“We, the members of the Washington Spirit organization, sincerely apologize and take full responsibility for breaking protocols that forced our previous two matches to be canceled,” the Spirit said in a statement. “We understand that our actions have serious consequences and that we have let our fans down. Moving forward, we are committed to being better and adhering to all protocols.”

The controversy is just the latest in a summer of turmoil for the Spirit, a stretch that has included the suspension of its former coach, Richie Burke, in the wake of abuse allegations and an ongoing struggle for control of the team between CEO Steve Baldwin and his co-owner, Y. Michele Kang.

The Spirit had at least four unvaccinated players when the team traveled to Portland this month, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation — a high number in a league in which many teams have a vaccination rate close to 100 percent. The NWSL had not reported any major coronavirus-related breaches since last summer, when the Orlando Pride was forced to withdraw from the Challenge Cup after at least one player tested positive before the tournament began.

The Spirit’s most recent match was Aug. 29, a scoreless draw with the North Carolina Courage, and because of an international break, the team will now go almost a month without playing. Washington’s next match is scheduled for Sept. 26 against Kansas City at Segra Field.

Steven Goff contributed to this report, which has been updated.

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