According to ESPN FC senior writer Mark Ogden, Alessia Russo is considering a move back to the states to join Washington Spirit (Russo played college soccer at UNC from 2017-2019). It should be noted that most pundits and journalists expect Russo to end up at Arsenal, who tried to avoid this uncertainty in the January window by offering United a reported world record women’s fee of £450k. United rebuffed those attempts in hopes they could convince Russo to extend her contract, but today both the club and player released statements confirming her departure.
While this news seemingly came out of nowhere, it’s not without merit. The Washington Spirit have one of the most ambitious and aggressive owners in Y. Michele Kang, who secured legendary health and performance guru Dawn Scott, former championship winning coach Mark Parsons, and most recently acquired Lyon’s women’s club – the most successful women’s club team in Europe.
Head coach Mark Parsons has discussed player recruitment as a nonstop 24/7/365 process, and everyone is involved. Mark Krikorian, Spirit General Manager, was at a men’s Manchester United match in December (who knows if the trip was related to recruiting Russo), and Ogden reports that Russo’s representatives attended last week’s 2-1 Spirit win over Angel City. Maybe they just wanted to hang out at Audi (rAudi) Field.
However, our professional opinion is to not get your hopes up. Journalists in England, even ones disconnected from Arsenal, seem to believe the ink is drying and since it’s a WSL to WSL transfer can’t become official until July 1, the day after the expiry of Russo’s contract with United.
Even if Russo is getting cold feet about joining the Gunners, Lyon is apparently in the mix as well. Though it is interesting to think about Michele Kang bidding against herself from two different continents. Sports business, baby!
Now that we’ve likely crushed your dreams, let’s pick them back up by considering the most beautiful and imaginative combination of two words: What if? Firstly, it would be a major, and probably ahead of schedule, coup by Kang and the Spirit. Secondarily, it will provide the NWSL with an opportunity to point and laugh at Arsenal yet again. Debinha was long rumored and suspected to move to Arsenal after leaving North Carolina Courage, only for her to pivot and stay in the league with Kansas City.
On the pitch it would be a hell of a lot of fun as well. Russo is a savvy forward who can receive service or create her own shot – sometimes at the same time. While the Spirit sit in second place at the midway point – an awesome feat considering questions prior to the season – they’ve done it primarily with defense. Their fifteen goals scored is tied for the second fewest among the top-6, and as a team they’re registering 12.91 shots per 90 minutes played, which ranks seventh in a twelve team league.
While those numbers don’t necessarily signal an underlying problem, the difference between being a team that’s tough to score against and one that’s impossible to cope with could be a player like Russo – who’s adept at clever and audacious ways to get the ball in the back of the net. According to StatsBomb, last year at United she generated 3.99 shots per 90 minutes in the WSL, a number currently ~1.5 shots higher Ashley Hatch (2.4) and Trinity Rodman (2.5).
Ok sorry reality time again, it remains highly unlikely. But the good news in all of this is that we are getting a glimpse of the Spirit’s ambition on the player recruitment side. Making themselves a realistic and familiar name in the transfer rumors of some of the biggest names in the sport can only be a good thing. So while we may not see Russo at rowdy Audi sometime this season or next, don’t throw those balloons and streamers away just yet, big names are surely on the way – eventually.