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Kris Ward fired after training incident, Spirit’s Mark Krikorian says

Kris Ward guided the Spirit to its first NWSL title last fall but had a 1-6-9 record this year. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post)

Kris Ward was fired as coach of the reigning NWSL champion Washington Spirit this week following an incident with players at training last Friday that left it “apparent to me — and to all — that a change was necessary,” club president Mark Krikorian said Thursday.

Krikorian declined to go into detail, but people familiar with the situation said Ward berated a player, prompting others to vocally come to their teammate’s defense.

Tension within the team already was at a breaking point, and Ward’s job was in jeopardy amid a 1-6-9 record and 15-game winless streak, said one person, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely.

Krikorian, who said he did not witness the incident, said he conducted meetings with players over the weekend and notified the NWSL and its players union of the situation. Ward was disinvited from a weekend team retreat, one person said.

Ward was then fired Monday morning by Krikorian and owner Y. Michele Kang. The team subsequently announced the move in a terse tweet and did not elaborate until Krikorian’s comments Thursday.

“There are a lot of elements that are going to slow us down and how we act,” Krikorian said. “So I certainly understand that there was a need for more information.”

Krikorian also said, given the nature of the situation, “There are limitations on what I’m going to say and what I can say.”

Ward did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Washington Spirit fires coach Kris Ward

Meghann Burke, executive director of the NWSL Players Association, confirmed Krikorian contacted the union Sunday. An NWSL spokesman said the league will investigate the matter.

Ward’s dismissal came about one year after then-coach Richie Burke was suspended by the Spirit for alleged verbal and emotional abuse of players. After a league investigation, he was fired. In recent years, several other NWSL coaches have been ousted for their treatment of players.

Ward was on Burke’s staff and, upon Burke’s ouster, was named interim coach. He led the team to its first championship and received the permanent job.

‘He made me hate soccer’: Players say they left NWSL’s Spirit over coach’s verbal abuse

One person close to the situation said Ward’s behavior was not nearly as bad as other fired coaches but that he had lost the trust of his players and his relationships with many them had deteriorated. Coupled with the Spirit’s poor results, that person said, it had reached a breaking point.

“We’ve been following quite closely how the results have gone, and they haven’t been great,” said Krikorian, who joined the Spirit in June after a long coaching career at Florida State. “So I think probably a combination of factors have led to this decision. … It was fairly clear that a change was necessary.”

Krikorian said he discussed the direction of the team with the players. “Ultimately, those decisions will rest with me,” he said, “but I won’t be doing my job if I’m not involving players and if I’m not involving staff in all of the different elements.”

Krikorian said he selected an interim coach, pending background checks, though he did not announce whom he had picked. Angela Salem, a first-year assistant, will oversee Saturday’s match in Houston, he said.

Meanwhile, two people close to the team said, the Spirit is in the process of adding Mike Bristol, Krikorian’s longtime assistant at Florida State, to the technical staff and possibly the front office. He will not become the interim coach, one person said.

The interim coach, people close to the situation said, is unlikely to become the permanent guide, and the Spirit plans to conduct a broader search in the offseason. Among the possible candidates is Mark Parsons, who coached Washington, the Portland Thorns and, until recently, the Dutch national team.

Krikorian, who coached the Seminoles to three NCAA titles before stepping down early this year, said he has no plans to reenter the coaching field.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “That was my previous life. I’m on to the next one.”

Notes: Defender Emily Sonnett, a U.S. national team veteran, was placed on Washington’s season-ending injury list with a foot ailment. She will miss the last six matches.

That announcement came one day after Spirit defender Kelley O’Hara withdrew from the U.S. squad’s two friendlies next month with a hip injury.

Washington activated midfielder Marissa Sheva and forward Audrey Harding through the end of the season.

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