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Following Mal Pugh trade, Washington Spirit select 5 players at 2020 NWSL Draft

For the second straight year, the Spirit were among the busiest teams at the draft

Kelley Piper/Black and Red United

On a whirlwind day at the 2020 NWSL College Draft, the Washington Spirit ended up selecting five players, adding forwards Ashley Sanchez and Katie McClure, the versatile Natalie Jacobs, midfielder Averie Collins, and defender Kaiya McCullough. They also made headlines by completing the day’s biggest trade, sending USWNT winger Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue FC for several draft picks.

Entering the day with only the 23rd and 32nd overall picks, the Spirit manufactured a huge trade that became official about 15 minutes after the event’s start. Sky Blue sent the 4th, 13th, and 17th overall picks in this year’s draft, as well as a 1st round pick in next year’s draft, to Washington in exchange for Pugh.

Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke joked that “the trade came about at 10:58 am,” summarizing the hectic negotiations surrounding the deal.

With their newly-acquired #4 pick, the Spirit selected UCLA forward Ashley Sanchez. As a junior, leaving a year early to declare for the draft, Sanchez came to the draft as one of the most accomplished recruits available. In her three seasons with the Bruins, Sanchez scored a total of 23 goals and provided 42 assists in 5,217 minutes played.

In 2017, her debut season, Sanchez broke a Bruins freshman record by posting 12 assists, landing on the All-West Region First Team. She came in second in the nation in assists in 2018 with 15, and matched that total again in her final NCAA season.

On a national level, Sanchez began to gain recognition after being named the 2016 U.S. Soccer Youth Female Player of the Year. That same year, Sanchez received her first call-up to train with the full USWNT senior team. Sanchez has also represented the US youth national teams up to the under-23 level.

With their second round picks, the Spirit looked to add depth. Natalie Jacobs, out of the University of Southern California, was their first pick, and was listed on draft day as a “forward/midfielder/defender.” Splitting her NCAA career between USC and Notre Dame, Jacobs totaled 26 goals and 23 assists, developing a reputation as a well-rounded player capable of filling nearly any role. Like Sanchez, she’s a US under-23, and was named to the CONCACAF Best XI after playing center back during under-20 World Cup qualifying.

Shortly after that, they picked up midfielder Averie Collins. A Montana native, Collins spent most of her collegiate career at Stanford before transferring to Washington State for her senior season. While at Stanford, Collins took part in three straight Pac-12 championships. In 2017, she was a starter for the same national title-winning side that included Spirit captain Andi Sullivan, having played all 21 games. She concluded her career in California after 57 games with 10 goals, 5 assists and 25 points.

Collins continued to play on a collegiate level after entering Washington State University to earn her Master’s degree in business administration. During her time in Washington State, Collins scored 6 goals, provided five assists and attempted 42 shots.

The Spirit then made use of the picks they entered the day with. First up, they added Kansas striker Katie McClure, who completed her collegiate career with 39 goals and 16 assists in 6,054 minutes played. McClure’s scoring totals grew progressively during her time with the Jayhawks, closing with an 11 goal/2 assist junior year followed by a stellar senior campaign in which she scored 17 goals and added 9 assists.

Washington’s last pick of the day went to UCLA center back Kaiya McCullough. As the 32nd overall pick, McCullough appeared overjoyed to join fellow Bruin teammate Ashley Sanchez with the Spirit, noting that a familiar face would make the transition to the pro game easier.

During her collegiate career in California, McCullough — yet another USYNT veteran, with appearances at the under-18 and under-20 level — played 7,887 minutes, featuring for a perennially strong defense. Throughout her four years, UCLA did not allow more than 25 goals in a given season. She has been recognized by the Pac-12 as overall and defensive player of the week on several occasions, and in 2019, named the league’s Scholar-Athlete of the year.