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2023 NWSL Draft: What you need to know about every Washington Spirit selection

The Spirit turned two picks into six and there’s a lot to talk about

NWSL: 2023 NWSL Draft Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Spirit entered the draft with a lot of work to do and exited the draft with a lot of work still to be done. A team notorious for pulling off big moves to obtain higher picks (albeit under different management and leadership) sat out the first two rounds. But in the third the Spirit came alive.

Entering the draft Washington only had two picks (#26, #37 overall) but by the end of the draft they’d secured six players. With only twelve selections per round, my rudimentary math skills inform me that the Spirit made a quarter of the selections in the third and fourth rounds.

While no big names came in, one big name moved out. Defender Emily Sonnett was traded to OL Reign for the 32nd pick and the Reign’s natural first round pick next year. Though the Spirit left the draft with a hole they didn’t have before the draft, they also did some shrewd late round business to make a slew of intriguing picks. Let’s meet them...

Pick #26: Nicole Douglas, Forward, Arizona State

How we got them

Douglas was the Spirit’s first natural pick in the draft and it seems they were impatiently waiting for Douglas to fall to them. Turns out it was a decent gamble, as they were able to select a player high on their list, and that Mark Parsons is very familiar with, while saving some allocation money and pick wheeling and dealing for later in the round.

What was said?

Nicole Douglas
“I’m just hoping I can bring that attacking ability that I have, my dribbling skills and obviously scoring goals as well. I hope I can achieve as much as I can I did in college and help the Washington spirit as much as possible.”

“I feel like they [Washington Spirit] can definitely help me and I can help them.”

“I feel like I have the technical ability that I developed in England and can now bring that into the NWSL and help bring [that to] the team.”

Mark Parsons
“If you look at four attackers, we only see two playing in the front line. Nicole Douglas is a very, very special player. Actually, when I was running the academy for Chelsea, she was in our U10s team — just like Alessia Russo at the time.”

“I had a very honest conversation with her two or three weeks ago about her position and her role, I think she can be one of the very, very best players in this league between lines because of her final pass. We haven’t seen anyone in this draft that has a final pass like her; and she’s a goalscorer. What we don’t see is her leading the line and playing on the back shoulder and trying to make runs.”

“We see her between lines like she started to do at the end of her career, and what we’ve seen is this final pass and the ability to arrive late and score goals is special, and something we want to complement the great attacking players we have.”

What to expect?

Parsons went on to say that the Spirit drafted an 8 (central midfielder), a 10 (attacking midfielder) and two forwards. Given his quotes above, no surprises for guessing which one. While Douglas was more of a pure goalscorer throughout her college career — tallying 60 goals and 21 assists at Arizona State — it’s clear Parsons is most enthused about her overall potential to create chances.

While the Spirit have a lot of quality in attack, there aren’t a ton of players on the squad who consistently break central lines. Ashley Sanchez excels at it and Bayley Feist has had some encouraging moments, so there’s an opportunity for Douglas to push for a decent chunk of playing time, particularly in a World Cup year.

Oh and here’s Douglas scything through UCLA’s entire defense.

Pick #28: Lyza Bosselmann, Goalkeeper, Gonzaga

How we got them

Here’s where the Spirit starting mashing the chaos button. In order to secure Bosselmann with the 28th pick, the Spirit swapped $75,000 of allocation money with Orlando for their 29th and 34th picks. Then Washington delivered the 29th pick plus $30,000 in allocation money to Racing Louisville to move one spot up to select 28th.

What to expect?

Since the list of goalkeepers currently signed with the Spirit is Aubrey Kingsbury and 41-year-old Nicole Barnhart, Bosselmann will have the opportunity to prove herself a future starter. The 5’10” Gonzaga Bulldog started and played all 18 games of the Zags’ 2022 season, leading them to a total of ten shutouts. Bosselmann’s 81% save percentage helped her set a single season record for fewest goals allowed in a season (13) by a Gonzaga goalkeeper.

Pick #30: Riley Tanner, Winger, Alabama

How we got them

Washington made a deal with OL Reign to send Emily Sonnett for Seattle’s 32nd pick and their natural first round pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft. Then, the Spirit tacked on another $30,000 to that 32nd pick and sent it to Houston for the 30th pick.

What was said?

Mark Parsons
“We have a structural problem that we had to re-balance. If five players go to the World Cup, if five players with expansion potentially coming, and also looking at how many of those players are going to play consistent minutes in the World Cup and how they would return, we’ve been open about the direction we feel that we were going to have to go.”

“I think the timing is not good, I wish the timing could be better, and maybe it was solved before. But what we knew and felt from OL Reign is they really believed and were invested in this, and they were going to give Emily the opportunity she deserves.”

“We tried to overcommunicate previously, we tried to be clear on this challenge we have, but it’s tough. I’m positive because I know Laura and I know the club and I know that’s going to be good there. For us we filled some big needs in other areas, and we’re working very successfully on areas in the backline that we feel are going to come off and help us in where we want to go.”

What to expect?

First things first, two integral pieces of the Spirit’s 2021 Championship — Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett — are with new teams. That leaves a lot of leadership to replace and has turned a presumed strength into a question mark. Parsons seemed confident about potential incoming players along the backline, so we’ll have to wait and see how the defense comes together over the coming weeks

Similar to Spirit forward Tara McKeown, Tanner is comfortable on the left side of the attack and can use both feet with equal precision and success. She’s probably a more natural wide player than McKeown, but also combines well with other forwards and is adept at finding pockets of space to make sharp passes into or across the box, or to wallop a shot. And my word does Tanner love a wallop.

Pick #34: Lena Silano, Forward, Long Beach State

How we got them

This was part of the first deal with Orlando when Washington traded $75,000 of allocation money for their 29th and 34th picks.

What to expect?

While Silano may forever be remembered for her absolutely outrageous overhead kick goal that break the internet from time to time, it’s far from her only highlight. In Silano’s final two seasons at Long Beach State she made 39 starts, scoring 27 goals and delivering 9 assists.

The timing of Silano’s runs, along with her anticipation and acceleration, allow her to beat defenders to the ball in the box. At this point in her career she’s primarily reliant on service rather than creating her own shot, but there’s potential for that to improve, and in the meantime she’s still an intriguing talent with an inherent ability to meet the ball at the right place and time to turn it into a shot on goal.

Pick #37: Civana Kuhlmann, Forward, Colorado

How we got them

The Spirit entered the draft with the 26th and 37th picks, and used allocation to pickup four more.

What was said?

Civana Kuhlmann
“I was waiting for almost four hours in a chair tonight, but I’ve waited a lot longer than four hours — I’ve waited multiple years — for this moment. I learned a lot in waiting, during injury [and] during adversity, and I told myself when I got to this moment that I would enjoy it and be proud that I was even in a position to be drafted tonight.”

“I walked in tonight having no idea what would happen. I was maybe hoping a little that Spirit would get their hand on me, but overall I didn’t know what was going to happen tonight.”

“I come with a lot of experience, [I] played for multiple great teams, and a lot of those teams came with some of the best competition, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Stanford was basically fielding a mini national team at some point, and I learned how to grind through tough times honestly ... so I think I bring a lot of character, patience, hard work and willingness to get after it.”

“I can’t wait to work with all of the Spirit staff, I truly think they have some of the best of the best over there and they’ve done a lot of great work to get some amazing individuals there. I’m excited to be working with this staff and Mark. I’d love to pick his brain about whatever he thinks I can do to get better. I’m here to develop and grow and listen to my staff members and the veterans on this team and so I can’t wait for that moment.”

“Ashley [Sanchez] and I are long-term best friends, honestly, and I don’t think we could have dreamt this up. I love the Spirit roster, the youth of it, I think they just want to get after it, I think young payers do want to get after it, there’s a freshness to it and I think it’s gonna go great, I’m really excited.”

What to expect?

Civana has the potential to be a steal of the draft, which would be a remarkable story for an immense talent with a devastating run of injuries. Kuhlmann tore her ACL in 2019, then had a meniscus repaired, in 2021 she had surgery on her right hip, and in early 2022 she had an operation on her left hip.

Before this horrid injury luck began, Kuhlmann was on her way to stardom alongside many of the Stanford teams she played on in 2017 and 2018, including Jordan Baggett and Andi Sullivan. Kuhlmann also had international success, becoming the first U.S. player to score a hat trick at the U17 Women’s World Cup.

Kuhlmann decided to go back home to Colorado for her final year of eligibility and play for the Buffaloes. She started 19 games, scored 12 goals and dished 6 assists.

Luckily for Kuhlmann and the Spirit, she’s heading to a club with a medical team helmed by one of the world’s best, Dawn Scott. As the Spirit’s newly hired Senior Director of Performance, Medical and Innovation, Scott has been given the resources to build a staff of professionals to deliver individualized physical, medical and mental supports.

“I’ve been through a lot physically, which led to more physical resilience, but more than anything, I’ve had to manage more than two 450 day injury comebacks, and that’s a lot of time sitting with yourself and sitting with your own thoughts,” Kuhlmann told 9NEWS shortly after moving back to Colorado. “I’ve learned that that’s the biggest difference between Civana before she went through three years of injury, and after — just how she learned to navigate the mental health.”

It’s difficult to know what to expect from Kuhlmann as a professional player. She undoubtedly possesses, and has displayed, an abundance of talent that would have made her a star already, but injuries are cruel and have already altered her trajectory. But if the Spirit can help Kuhlmann recover fully and keep the physical and mental trauma of long-term injury nothing more than a story of the past, they will have stolen first round talent with the 37th pick.

Given all she’s already been through, we can’t help but root for a dramatic storybook turnaround to the stardom she deserves.

Pick #40: Delaney Graham, Midfielder, Duke

How we got them

Apparently sparked by Graham still being available, the Spirit sprung into action and shoveled $25,000 in allocation money to Racing Louisville in exchange for the 40th pick.

What was said?

Mark Parsons
“We think we’re gonna be OK at developing players, and to get people that have the right mindset to take advantage of the environment we’re going to build is key. We see two of those staying as high players and then we see one actually being a number 8 and looking forward to talking more to that player about that position.”

What to expect?

Parsons threw a bit of a curveball with this answer since Delaney played in midfield and defense throughout her college career at Duke. But we still think the Richmond, VA-born Graham is the central midfielder he’s envisioning.

In her final season at Duke, Graham hit a career high seven assists. Graham also managed remarkable consistency throughout her five year college career, hitting the 20-games played mark every season except for one, and in total playing in 105 games, starting in 103 of them.

Also, Graham is a gifted singer, so if the Spirit are ever in a scramble to find someone to belt out the national anthem (which, please stop doing this before domestic competitions k thx), Graham is more than qualified. It’s also not everyday that a player drafted has their own EP available in the iTunes Store, so consider dropping $4.95 to cop Dandelion by Lady Blue to welcome Delaney to Washington, DC.