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Washington Spirit send Mal Pugh to Sky Blue FC in blockbuster NWSL Draft trade

The Spirit did not hold back on draft day, acquiring a series of picks in exchange for the USWNT winger

Kelley Piper/Black and Red United

The Washington Spirit made one of the 2020 NWSL Draft’s big moves, sending USWNT winger Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue FC in exchange for the 4th, 13th, and 17th overall picks in this year’s draft as well as Sky Blue’s 2021 1st round pick.

The move was first reported by the Washington Post’s Steve Goff before later being confirmed by the Spirit.

Pugh departs the Spirit having scored 10 goals in 40 total appearances. Her arrival was initially the end of an extremely complicated series of trades engineered by then-head coach Jim Gabarra, and was a major moment for the club at the time. However, after leading a struggling Spirit in scoring in 2017, a knee injury disrupted her 2018, and the 2019 World Cup kept her off the field for substantial portions of 2019.

The Spirit used the #4 pick to select highly-touted UCLA attacker Ashley Sanchez, who figures to be a direct replacement for Pugh in the Spirit’s lineup. Both players are known for their speed and their ability to get down the wing both as a goal threat and as a creative force. In three years at UCLA, Sanchez scored 23 goals and added a whopping 42 assists for the Bruins.

With their second round picks, the Spirit selected Natalie Jacobs from Southern Cal and Washington State midfielder Averie Collins. Jacobs, a utility player who can play virtually any position. That versatility is a big deal for head coach Richie Burke, who has shown a willingness to toggle between different formations based on specific in-game needs. Collins, meanwhile, played 57 games (10g/5a) at Stanford before transferring to Washington State. There, she had a 6 goal/5 assist senior season, starting all 24 games for the Cougars.

The Spirit had emphasized on multiple occasions that their draft day intention was to move up into the first two rounds, but prior to the trade, indications were that they did not want to trade any players away. However, a deal that got them two first round picks — with Sanchez still available — and two second round picks was apparently enough to part with a player who has been a fixture in USWNT rosters for the last three-plus years.