Washington Spirit: A year to remember for Aubrey Bledsoe

Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe had a year to remember, finishing off 2019 with her first call up to the World-Cup winning USWNT. We review her brilliant year here.

February 16, 2019. The final whistle blew at Netsrata Jubilee Stadium in Carlton, Australia to give Aubrey Bledsoe and Sydney FC their third W-League Championship with a 4-2 victory over Perth Glory to start what would become a historic 2019 for the Washington Spirit goalkeeper.

Running from mid-November to mid-February, the Australian W-League gives NWSL players an opportunity to prepare for league play in the states. Several players from the NWSL spend their offseason in Australia with the likes of Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, and Alana Kennedy playing in their home country while the NWSL is in offseason.

‘I really enjoyed playing over there [Australia] because it’s still a competitive league but it’s a good change of pace from the NWSL,’ Bledsoe said. ‘Here in the US, it’s tough to stay sharp in the offseason especially as a goalkeeper. So, it kind of checks my boxes by getting to live in a beautiful country and staying ready for the NWSL.’

In just her second season with Sydney FC, Bledsoe had already reached the final twice and was named the 2018/19 W-League goalkeeper of the year, becoming the third American to win the award.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 16: Caitlin Foord, Sofia Huerta, Aubrey Bledsoe and Danielle Colaprico of Sydney FC celebrate victory after the W-League Grand Final match between Sydney FC and Perth Glory at Netsrata Jubilee Oval on February 16, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Bledsoe finished her W-League season making 51 saves and having appeared in 13 of 14 matches for Sydney FC en route to their title-winning season.

‘To be honest, I was kind of surprised that I won because my team was pretty stacked, and I didn’t have to do too much,’ Bledsoe said. ‘It meant a lot to be recognized by my peers and especially to be a foreigner to win that award as an American. I think is pretty cool just because they probably would like to see their Aussies win.’

Following a successful W-League season, Bledsoe returned to Washington, DC and turned her focus on helping her Spirit side make the NWSL playoffs and winning the franchise’s first-ever NWSL championship.

Bledsoe’s season with the Spirit started with a 2-0 victory over Sky Blue FC on April 13, with Bledsoe making two saves to earn her first clean-sheet of the 2019 campaign and later falling to Utah Royals 1-0 in week two to start the campaign.

Just as the season was beginning in full force, players across the NWSL were preparing to travel to France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. For Bledsoe and her Spirit, that meant the absence of forward Mallory Pugh and midfielder Rose Lavelle to the USWNT.

‘It was tough for us this year because we never got a rhythm with them [Pugh and Lavelle],’ Bledsoe said. ‘Once we got used to playing with them and developed relationships on the field they then left for France.’

In the absence of Pugh and Lavelle, Washington won four-straight matches over a span of seven games unbeaten for the Spirit and sitting in first place. Following the good run of form, the Spirit were struck by a mid-season slump with only one win over the following eight fixtures and fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The 2019 World Cup came to an end with Lavelle and Pugh hoisting their first World Cup trophy and a record-breaking fourth for the USWNT before returning to the NWSL for one last push at the playoffs.

BOYDS, MD – SEPTEMBER 28: Washington Spirit midfielder Rose Lavelle (10) talks with forward Mallory Mal Pugh (11) during the North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) game September 28, 2019 at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

‘They’re [Pugh and Lavelle] professionals, every time they go to training, we know they’re dedicated, and they give 100%,’ Bledsoe said. ‘It was exciting because our club did a lot of post-World Cup celebration kind of things for them and kind of rode off that momentum from the media and all that attention that Rose and Mal and everyone was getting so it definitely helped grow the club and the league as a whole.’

In the middle of the Spirit’s playoff push, Bledsoe added to an already impressive 2019 when she graduated from Harvard Business School’s program ‘Crossover into Business.’ The program is designed to help professional athletes extend their knowledge from just sports and into the business world.

Wanting to help continue building the NWSL from a player perspective, the opportunity for Bledsoe to develop a better understanding of business’ role in sports was something that she had been waiting to do and finally got her chance in 2019.

‘More for me, it’s just wanting to just keep this league sustainable,’ Bledsoe said. ‘I feel like as a player I have a lot to offer to the management on this side of things. Because a lot of time I feel that management has good intentions but just doesn’t understand just what the lives of players are like.’

Unfortunately for Bledsoe and the Spirit, a shot to win the elusive NWSL championship would have to wait another year as the club finished in fifth place, one position short of a playoff birth. Washington ended with 34 points only four points behind fourth-place Reign FC with 38 points for the final playoff bid.

‘I got to be honest we kind of undershot by not making it,’ Bledsoe said. ‘A lot of people are like ‘Oh what a great season for the Spirit they almost made the playoffs.’ But I think we should have made the playoffs and it was kind of a letdown not to just because we were actually in first place at one point.’

The disappointment of falling short of the playoffs will not go away for Bledsoe and the Spirit, but despite missing out on the postseason, Bledsoe added another piece of silverware when she won the 2019 NWSL goalkeeper of the year. Her second such award in 2019 after winning the same accolade in Australia.

BOYDS, MD – SEPTEMBER 28: Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Bledsoe (1) makes a save during the North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) game September 28, 2019 at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

She ended the 2019 NWSL season tied for the league-leader in saves with 86 and a league-leading nine shutouts to make her a clear-cut favorite to win the award.

Her impressive season led to new USWNT head coach Vlatko Andovoski selecting Bledsoe for her first national team camp with games against Sweden and Costa Rica possibly being the opponent Bledsoe faces in her first match with the US Soccer crest on her chest.

‘It’s [being called up] something that I’ve always hoped for but didn’t really have a particular time frame just because it’s largely out of my control,’ Bledsoe said. ‘Obviously, I was thankful with the new head coach he gave me a chance but there’s no way to ever know if and when you’ll get called in.’

The national team call up is the cherry on top of a year to remember for Bledsoe. 2019 consisted of winning two goalkeeper of the year awards, a W-League championship, spending time at one of the best academic institutions in America, and now finally getting to represent the World Cup-winning United States.

But as USWNT camp and the year comes to an end, Bledsoe will return to Australia and Sydney FC to defend her championship and title of goalkeeper of the year to prepare for another season with the Washington Spirit hopeful to add NWSL champion to her list of achievements.

Next: USWNT Vs Netherlands: 3 things we learned

‘100 percent make the playoffs and from there hopefully win a championship,’ Bledsoe said. ‘I’ve been with the Spirit two years and the first two still had that new feeling with the new ownership and so many new players. So, I’m just looking forward to having something to build off of to build those relationships that we’ve worked on all season.’

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