On the heels of a blockbuster trade that sent Crystal Dunn’s NWSL rights to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch, the Washington Spirit enter the NWSL College Draft on Thursday holding two of the three top picks. Washington acquired the third overall pick in a trade with the Houston Dash in exchange for Lindsay Agnew and the Spirit’s sixth round pick. After a last place finish in 2017, Washington will look to tomorrow’s draft to continue improving their squad.
Here are the basics you need to get up to speed:
The draft starts at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. The league will live stream the draft on Youtube, Facebook, and the league website. There are four rounds with ten picks each. This draft class isn’t considered to be as deep as in previous years and some notable players haven’t registered yet (we’ll get to one of them in a second).
At the time this was written, the Spirit held seven picks in the draft. Washington has the first and third overall picks, the first pick of each subsequent round, as well as the 16th and 26th picks. There is always a flurry of trades on the morning of and during the draft, so it’s unlikely this situation will stick. Look for the Spirit to be in the thick of a busy day of dealing league-wide.
The league’s roster limit is an issue to keep in mind on Thursday. On top of the aforementioned seven picks, Washington has 23 players currently on their roster. Last season, several players were placed on season-ending injured reserve, but most of them have recovered. With the NWSL currently limiting rosters to 20 total players, some trades could end up being a necessity.
Stanford star and Virginia native Andi Sullivan is the expected first pick... if she is actually in the draft. As of Wednesday morning, Sullivan hasn’t yet registered, which means that the top player in college soccer is not available to be drafted. She has until Wednesday night to register, which is widely considered to be what will happen. If things go according to plan, the Spirit are expected to select her with the first overall pick. Sullivan has earned seven caps with the national team, and will be expected to be a major boost to the Spirit’s central midfield whether she plays as a deep-lying defensive midfielder or a bit further forward. She can also fill in at center back in a pinch.
A key weakness for the Spirit in 2017 was its backline. Tuesday’s trade should improve that situation. Taylor Smith has national team experience and seems likely to play right back for the Spirit. This lets Estelle Johnson slide over to the center, but the Spirit could still use some reinforcements. Two key prospects to keep an eye out for are Indigo Gibson and Schuyler DeBree. Gibson is a senior at the University of California and a member of the US under-23 pool, while DeBree is a versatile defender who has previously played with the Spirit Reserves.
While the offense looked promising at times last year, nagging injuries plagued the front line all season. The arrival of 2017 Rookie of the Year Ashley Hatch and a return to health for Francisca Ordega will help the Spirit’s offense, but it could be worth it to draft a forward such as South Carolina’s Savannah McCaskill (who will likely still be available with the third pick). McCaskill is participating in her first-ever USWNT camp at the moment. The Spirit could also look for an attacking boost in the later rounds.