The NWSL offseason kicked into a higher gear today thanks in no small part to a pair of Washington Spirit trades. Washington traded the NWSL rights to Crystal Dunn (currently playing for Chelsea in England) and an international roster spot to the North Carolina Courage, picking up right back Taylor Smith and forward Ashley Hatch. Only minutes earlier, the Spirit announced another big trade, sending Lindsay Agnew and the 6th overall pick in the NWSL draft to the Houston Dash in exchange for the 3rd overall pick.
Dunn had left the Spirit for Chelsea after the 2016 season. The USWNT star, who won the 2015 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot awards and helped lead the Spirit to the 2016 NWSL Championship game, tweeted a message indicating that she will suit up for the Courage this season rather than continuing to play abroad:
While seeing Dunn play for another team in the league is a bitter blow for Spirit fans, Washington did at least acquire some major talent in return. Smith, a 24 year old who spent her college years at UCLA, had a breakout 2017 season in North Carolina and earned her first 7 caps for the USWNT at right back. While Smith can play a variety of positions, it seems entirely likely that she will step into that role with the Spirit. Last season, Estelle Johnson acquitted herself quite well on the right, but she’s a natural center back. Adding Smith to the mix means Johnson can compete for starts in the middle again, essentially strengthening both positions.
Hatch, who is currently playing on loan in Australia with Melbourne City, beat Washington midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard to the NWSL Rookie of the Year award in 2017 after notching 7 goals and 1 assist for the Courage. Hatch’s size and speed make her a threat both as a wide forward and down the middle as an out-and-out striker. Given that injuries to Francisca Ordega and Arielle Ship left Washington short of strikers for much of the final two months of last season, Hatch seems quite likely to join Smith as a starter straight away. Hatch has 1 cap for the USWNT, but that number may grow after an impressive showing in her first professional season.
In the other deal that made up a wild afternoon, Washington made a separate deal with the Houston Dash that sees Lindsay Agnew heading to Texas in a deal designed to move the Spirit further up in the draft. Washington packaged the #6 pick in Thursday’s draft with Agnew to acquire the #3 pick, signalling an intent to jump ahead of Sky Blue FC. The New Jersey club’s recently hired head coach Denise Reddy left the Spirit to take over at Sky Blue.
Agnew was never quite able to crack the Spirit starting lineup, finishing her rookie campaign with 291 minutes played and just two starts. The Ohio State product is a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and has 7 caps for the latter’s national team. As the Spirit roster that is heavy with forwards, Agnew will probably find more playing time in Houston under new head coach Vera Pauw.
With the move, the Spirit have acquired two of the first three picks in the NWSL draft, and they hold the 11th, 16th, 21st, 26th, and 31st overall picks as well. After finishing at the bottom of the table in a transition year for the team, it appears the gameplan is to rebuild by acquiring younger talent. However, given season-ending injury exemptions allowed the Spirit to finish last season with more players under contract than a 20-spot NWSL roster allows, it remains to be seen how they’ll accommodate seven more draft picks into a squad that has 23 players after today’s moves.
In other words, this could be a very busy few weeks indeed.