The Washington Spirit have added USWNT midfielder Rose Lavelle, Georgetown defender Elizabeth Wenger, and brought back a familiar face in veteran winger Tiffany Weimer via the NWSL’s first-ever dispersal draft, an awkward player acquisition mechanism if there ever was one. The unfortunate decision to fold the Boston Breakers necessitated a league-wide process to place Boston’s players with new clubs as quickly as possible, leading to today’s dispersal draft.
A weighted lottery had given Washington the second overall pick, but a pre-draft trade saw the Spirit trade a conditional 2019 1st round draft pick (they entered the day with two following the trade that sent Shelina Zadorsky to Orlando), their natural 2019 2nd round pick, and the second overall dispersal draft pick to Sky Blue FC to move up to first overall.
That allowed the Spirit to select Lavelle, who is widely considered to be one of the most creative American midfielders to emerge in recent years. Lavelle got her first cap in last year’s SheBelieves Cup and appeared to be a big part of the USWNT’s plans only for a hamstring strain suffered on international duty cutting her year short. Days after scoring a winner against Sweden, Lavelle suffered a hamstring strain in a friendly against Norway.
The injury was initially projected to keep her out for 4-6 weeks, but outside of a 33 minute appearance in a USA friendly against New Zealand in her hometown of Cincinnati, Lavelle did not play for the USWNT or the Breakers again in 2017. Lavelle did partake in this month’s national team camp, but was there to train and continue her rehab rather than vie for a spot on the field against Denmark.
Nonetheless, Lavelle still won NWSL’s Player of the Month award for April, and once she’s back to full fitness will be the fourth young Spirit player with a long-term spot on the USWNT’s roster. Aside from Lavelle (22), Washington will be able to call on Mallory Pugh (19), Taylor Smith (24), and Andi Sullivan (22) this season.
Lavelle was not the only addition for the Spirit today, however. Georgetown center back Elizabeth Wenger was considered among the best prospects at her position in this year’s NWSL draft. Wenger joins Duke duo Rebecca Quinn (a defensive midfielder with significant experience at center back) and Schuyler DeBree as new additions who will compete with Whitney Church and Estelle Johnson for time at center back. Having that much depth at the position also allows head coach Jim Gabarra to use the 352 formation that was seen in about one-third of Washington’s games last year.
The Spirit used their third pick in the dispersal draft to select veteran winger Tiffany Weimer. The 34-year-old native of Connecticut has had multiple stops in the Washington area, playing for the 2006 Washington Freedom (who played numerous friendlies against other W-League teams before joining the W-League in 2007) and for the Spirit in 2014 and 2015. A torn ACL early in 2014 cost her a full season, and much of her 2015 season as well. Weimer was with Washington during the 2016 preseason, but was ultimately waived due to a crowded roster just before the season began.
Washington opted to pass with their final pick in the dispersal draft, a choice that was not much of a surprise. After selecting seven players at the college draft and picking up three more today, the Spirit currently hold the rights to 33 NWSL players. Rosters are still being limited to a maximum of 20 players, meaning that competition to get a spot will be fierce.
Players selected in the dispersal draft, however, come with some important stipulations. Players who were under contract (as Lavelle and Weimer were) or who were among Boston’s college draft picks (Wenger) will not count against a team’s roster limit or their salary cap for the 2018 season. Lavelle, as a Federation Player, would be cap-exempt in any case.
Instead, the team will be responsible for paying any housing/auto expenses as well as the salaries of Wenger and Weimer should they opt to sign them for this season. Adding all three would effectively give the Spirit a roster of 23 during 2018. For 2019 onward, however, all dispersal draft picks will have normal NWSL roster regulations apply.