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Spirit’s Kris Ward blasts refereeing, says NWSL ‘has to do a better job’

(Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

Washington Spirit coach Kris Ward joined the calls for the NWSL to improve its officiating Wednesday following his team’s 1-1 draw with the Portland Thorns.

Portland’s Sophia Smith and Washington’s Ashley scored within five minutes of one another. Then in the 71st minute came a controversial call, as a would-be goal by Spirit defender Emily Sonnett was ruled offside.

When asked after the game if he had been given any explanation as to the call, Ward opted to call out the NWSL’s refereeing both during that game and overall this season.

“They get a failing grade in every sense of the word tonight,” said Ward, adding that his team was not given an explanation for the offside call.

He also addressed a perceived lack of safety in games so far this season.

“You want to have talented players on the field — which, people tune in to watch Ashley Sanchez. People tune in to watch Trinity Rodman,” he said. “And if you’re not going to do your job in protecting them, that’s not going to be the case, and you’re going to get less exciting players on the field and people aren’t going to want to watch.

“So the league at some point has to make a decision as to what they want to do because this is what continues to happen. It’s so frustrating to watch it time and time and time again and listen to the absolute nonsense that comes back from [the referees].”

During the Challenge Cup, the referees generally called tighter games, handing out over 100 yellow cards through the group stage compared to 43 in 2021. However, the officiating has been called into question in recent weeks, especially as injuries mounted.

During the Challenge Cup final, in which the Spirit fell 2-1 to the Courage, three players went down with injuries on both sides of the ball.

Ward addressed the fine given to Ashley Hatch after she put her cleats to an opposing player’s chest during that game as an example of the inconsistency of the league’s responses this season.

The coach said “you could call a foul, you could give a yellow card” on Hatch, though no penalty was called during the game.

But he pointed to a similar incident from the Spirit’s Challenge Cup opener against the Pride in March, in which Sonnett suffered broken ribs after being kicked, according to Ward.  The league’s responded that because the defender finished the game, no penalties would be assessed.

“Are you out of your mind, that that’s your response when someone clearly gets kicked twice and has broken ribs?” he said. “And you’re not going to do anything to protect it. It’s absolute madness.”

Ward called on the NWSL to make changes to protect players.

“The league has to do a better job,” he said. “I don’t know what else it’s going to take for them to step up and actually take this seriously.”