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Washington Spirit promotes Kris Ward to permanent head coach

Aside from two forfeits for pandemic protocol issues, Kris Ward was undefeated as the Spirit's interim coach after taking the helm in mid-August. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post)

Kris Ward, who as interim coach guided the Washington Spirit through turbulent times and to the National Women’s Soccer League championship, was given the permanent job Monday.

Ward, 42, took over in mid-August when Richie Burke was suspended, and later fired, following an investigation into allegations of verbally and emotionally abusing players.

After the coaching change, the Spirit’s only two defeats were forfeits for violating the league’s pandemic protocols. The club was 9-0-3 in competitive matches, culminating with a 2-1 extra-time victory over the Chicago Red Stars on Nov. 20 in Louisville, Washington’s first trophy in nine NWSL seasons.

From November: Spirit defeats Red Stars to win first NWSL title

Ward also had to navigate the squad past distractions caused by a league probe into the club’s operations and an ownership dispute between Steve Baldwin and Y. Michele Kang. The latter dispute remains unresolved.

“When you look at his record, it’s clear that he’s earned this,” Spirit President Ben Olsen said in a statement Monday. “But more than that, he has helped to foster a positive environment for the players. We are very excited to keep him with us and look forward to the 2022 season.”

Terms were not disclosed, but according to people close to the negotiations, Ward received a two-year contract with a one-year club option. He becomes the club’s fifth head coach.

“We’re building something special with this club,” Ward said in a statement, “and I’m honored to continue to be a part of it.”

Ward was a Spirit assistant during the inaugural 2013 season and, after several years in the youth ranks in the D.C. and Los Angeles areas, returned to the Spirit in August 2020. Earlier in his career, he worked in D.C. United’s academy system and was an assistant with the Washington Freedom, the Spirit’s predecessor.

With most key players expected back, the Spirit will open training camp Feb. 1 in preparation for the NWSL Challenge Cup, which begins March 19. The 22-game regular season will commence in May.

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