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Washington Spirit sign Alia Martin, pick five players during 2022 NWSL College Draft

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The Spirit seemed set to take it easy, but it turns out there’s no such thing as a slow draft day

Scott C. Soderberg / Courtesy of Michigan Photography

The signs pointed towards a quiet day for the Washington Spirit, but the 2022 NWSL College Draft ended up being a busy one for the defending champions. Washington announced a signing just before the event, and then — after entering the draft with just two late picks — traded nearly $200,000 in allocation money to obtain three separate 2nd round picks.

Before the draft even began, the Spirit announced that they’d signed defender Alia Martin to a one-year deal with the club. Martin took a fifth year at the University of Michigan as a graduate student, and was one of the top defenders in the nation in 2021. She made the All-American first team (effectively the NCAA best 11), as well as a third straight All-Big Ten first team, starting 20 games and captaining the Wolverines. Martin was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, and finished her collegiate career with 76 appearances. The Indiana native played for the U.S. under-17 national team before heading to Ann Arbor, and at 5’9” brings some needed size to the Spirit’s back four.

In a team release, Spirit interim head coach Kris Ward said “We are very excited that Alia is joining the Spirit. She is a First Team All-American coming out of Michigan and we anticipate she will be a core part of our defense in 2022. We look forward to being a part of her continued development as a player.”

“After a stellar career at the University of Michigan, we are excited that Alia is joining the Spirit family,” added Spirit president Ben Olsen. “She brings added depth to our defense and we look forward to watching her grow in our environment.”

Washington entered draft day with only the last picks in the 3rd and 4th round, but as is seemingly a team tradition, they traded up aggressively. First, they sent $85,000 in allocation money to San Diego Wave FC to acquire the 14th overall pick, using it to select Louisiana State forward Tinaya Alexander. Generally playing on the wing, Alexander put up 21 goals and 22 assists across five years for the Tigers, appearing in 81 games. An All-SEC selection in 2021, Alexander is a product of Arsenal’s academy system, and has played for England’s under-17 national team.

Just minutes later, the Spirit traded up again, sending another $85,000 in allocation money to OL Reign to pick up the #15 overall pick. From that spot, Washington picked Vanderbilt attacker Madison Elwell. During her time with the Commodores, Elwell made the All-SEC second team three times in a row. A left-footer capable of playing multiple positions, Elwell put up 12 goals and 29 assists in 97 NCAA appearances. Interim head coach Kris Ward, speaking to media during the draft, said that the club has given some thought towards looking at Elwell — who has experience playing as a wingback — as a left back next year.

The Spirit took about half an hour of down time before getting right back to work, trading $25,000 in allocation money and their highest 2023 2nd round pick to the Chicago Red Stars to get the 23rd overall pick. They used that pick to select Hofstra midfielder/forward Lucy Shepherd, a 5’9” native of Worcestershire, England. Shepherd came up through the Aston Villa system and played for the England under-19s, and made the All-Colonial Athletic Association second team in each of her last three collegiate seasons. In 96 career NCAA appearances, Shepherd posted 25 goals and 25 assists, including a standout 8g/12a season in 2021.

Washington then held off, waiting for the #38 pick they entered the day with. The Spirit used that pick on yet another attacking player, selecting target forward Audrey Harding from UNC Wilmington. Harding had a standout 2021, scoring 8 goals and adding 7 assists in just 14 games for the Seahawks. She finished her collegiate career with 23 goals and 20 assists in 68 appearances, making the All-CAA first team for the second consecutive season.

Capping off the night for a draft that lasted nearly five hours, the Spirit picked Gonzaga defender Jordan Thompson. Thompson, a center back despite being just 5’2”, was a five-year starter for the Bulldogs, scoring 6 goals in 81 total appearances. Based on her size, Thompson may be seen as a candidate to shift into a fullback role, though her athleticism (Thompson set high school records in track events) should not be underestimated.

While the draft appears to have ended without further moves, Ward told media during a virtual availability that the club has moves that it’s working out in the near future, with the expectation that they’ll be able to share more sometime next week. In particular, this may have something to do with the team’s international spots, as the club spent $110,000 in allocation money to get into position to draft two players that would require one while only having one spot free.