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Washington Spirit trade Tegan McGrady, NWSL first round pick to San Diego Wave FC

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The Spirit gained expansion draft protection from San Diego, but at a high cost

Nikita Taparia

The Washington Spirit have made a major trade, sending defender Tegan McGrady, a 2022 first round college draft pick, and an international roster spot for the 2022 season to NWSL expansion side San Diego Wave FC. In exchange, San Diego will not be able to select Washington players during the expansion draft, which will take place on December 16.

In a team press release, Spirit President Ben Olsen said “Ahead of the Expansion Draft, we faced the challenge of finding ways to position the club for sustained success by keeping as much of our core as possible. This trade aligns with that focus. We are very grateful to Tegan for her contributions to the Spirit. On the field, she was a key defensive piece to our championship run and off the field, she has set the example for athletes who aim to use their platform to create positive change. We wish her nothing but the best.”

Interim head coach Kris Ward was also quoted, saying “It’s been an honor to coach Tegan this season. She’s made a positive impact on the field and off, and it is clear that she is just at the beginning of what will continue to be a successful career. She will be greatly missed.”

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported the news of McGrady’s departure late last night, with the full details of today’s announcement. Sources had told Black and Red United that the deal at one point yesterday included another Spirit player, only for the final details to shift towards NWSL assets instead.

With the expansion draft looming and a league-wide trade freeze coming up this Friday, there has been a flurry of significant moves around NWSL. USWNT midfielder Sam Mewis was traded to Kansas City yesterday, with the Current and North Carolina Courage making a trade involving a first-round draft pick swap, and both defender Kiki Pickett and the NWSL rights to Malia Berkely going to the Courage. Later in the day, CBS Sports’ Sandra Herrera reported that Chicago Red Stars defender Sarah Gorden could be heading to Angel City FC in a trade that remains unannounced.

McGrady appeared in 13 regular season games (8 starts) for the Spirit this season, and started in each round of the playoffs as well as all four Challenge Cup matches. Despite competition from international defenders Julia Roddar and Saori Takarada, McGrady appeared to be first choice at left back when fully healthy. Injuries were still a factor, though, as a pre-game injury suffered in Chicago on August 1st was followed by not starting for ten straight games.

All told, McGrady played in 31 matches for the Spirit in three seasons. The trade to San Diego will reunite her with former USWNT coach Jill Ellis, who called McGrady — who was still playing college soccer with Stanford — up to the senior national team in 2018. McGrady’s lone USWNT cap came in a 6-2 win over Mexico, with Ellis still the head coach.

The trade is clearly a high price to pay for the Spirit; giving up a top player at a position teams often struggle to fill, along with the lost opportunity cost of a first round pick for a team that historically drafts well, is no small thing. However, in context, Washington does at least have depth at left back, with Roddar, Takarada, and Kelley O’Hara all receiving caps for their national teams at that spot. Anna Heilferty and Chinyelu Asher saw time there this season, and Dorian Bailey started in that spot several times as a rookie in 2019.

More importantly, there is also the cruel reality of the expansion draft. Teams get to protect just nine players, including only one USWNT-allocated player. Effectively, the Spirit opted to make this trade to gain some control in the process rather than simply being at the whims of San Diego and Angel City FC. Given how deep the Washington roster is, any reasonable projection of the expansion draft would come with the expectation of both NWSL newcomers selecting someone who spent this season with the Spirit. Gaining protection from the Wave means Washington now only has Angel City to worry about.