Offseason Youth Movement May Lead to Washington Spirit Dynasty
To say that the Washington Spirit had an active and successful offseason may be the understatement of the year. The team which came in dead last in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2017 made very good offseason moves including trades and draft picks, and took advantage of the demise of another NWSL team to become the home of the best collection of young talent in the league.
This week the Spirit added arguably the most exciting young player in the game — not already on the Spirit roster—with the addition of U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Rose Lavelle with the No. 1 overall pick in Tuesday’s NWSL Dispersal Draft.
Lavelle, 22, has scored two goals over the course of her first seven appearances with the senior U.S. national team. After the Boston Breakers made Lavelle the top pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft, the University of Wisconsin product netted two goals in 10 games for the Breakers during her rookie season.
The Spirit now have the top draft picks from the 2018 (Andi Sullivan) and 2017 (Rose Lavelle) drafts, and the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft (Rebecca Quinn), as well as the No. 2 draft pick in the 2017 draft (Ashley Hatch). Hatch was named the 2017 NWSL Rookie of the year.
All that young talent and potential without mentioning 19-year-old USWNT phenom Mallory Pugh, who joined the Spirit last year.
Lavelle, Sullivan, Hatch, Quinn, and Pugh is an embarrassment of riches.
It started on Jan. 17 when the team acquired U.S. Women’s National Team defender 24-year-old Taylor Smith and 22-year-old Ashley Hatch, from the North Carolina Courage in exchange an international roster spot and the NWSL rights to Crystal Dunn.
The Spirit then acquired the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft from the Houston Dash in exchange for forward/defender Lindsay Agnew and the No. 6 pick in the draft. The move gave the Spirit the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks in the 2018 draft.
With those two picks, they selected the best player coming out college, Lorton, Va.-native midfielder Sullivan, 22, who played at Stanford University, as the first overall pick and 22-year-old Canadian international player Quinn with the No. 3 pick. Quinn played her college soccer at Penn State University.
The Dispersal Draft became necessary when the NWSL announced that the Boston Breakers would cease operation late last week. The Spirit were awarded the No. 2 pick in the Dispersal Draft which took place on Tuesday, Jan. 30, but they traded up for the top spot with Sky Blue FC. In exchange, Sky Blue FC received the No. 2 pick in the Dispersal Draft, as well as a conditional first-round pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft, and the Spirit’s natural selection in the second round of the College Draft.
While the loss of a team may not bode well for the NWSL as a whole, NWSL Managing Director Amanda Duffy believes the move is the best for the league which is not the longest operating professional women’s soccer league as it begins its sixth season.
“The Boston Breakers are one of the longest-running and most historic clubs in women’s soccer, so we certainly understand that fans of the NWSL and the sport will be disappointed to learn of the club’s decision to cease operations,” said NWSL Managing Director Amanda Duffy. “In the best interest for the long-term viability of the NWSL, we will operate with nine clubs in 2018 to ensure a stronger league where all parties involved are aligned and committed to the core mission of continued growth and development as we move into our sixth season.”
''It's a market that we believe in. It's a brand that has a great historical reputation in women's professional soccer,'' Duffy told The Associated Press. ''With many of the groups we've spoken to over the last few months, and over the last few days, we hope to continue those conversations to look at 2019 or beyond as expansion opportunities,''
Duffy emphasized that the overall health of the league remains strong, pointing to the commitment of the league's sponsors and partners, and the addition of the Utah Royals, which were formally FC Kansas City.
''They understand that in a young league, in the formative years, that sometimes it required this type of decision for the long-term success and stability in that league,'' Duffy told the Associated Press.
The Spirit went on to select defender Elizabeth Wenger with the No. 17 pick and forward Tiffany Weimer with the No. 20 pick, before passing on the No. 35 pick.
Wenger recently completed her senior season at Georgetown University, where she earned United Soccer Coaches All-America honors this fall. The 2017 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year anchored a Hoyas back line which allowed only seven goals in 21 games. She was selected with the No. 17 pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft by the Breakers.
Weimer returns to Washington having first played for the Spirit from 2014-2015. She made 17 NWSL appearances in 2017 with Boston, recording one assist. In 2016, the Penn State alum scored five goals in 10 games for Swedish club Kvarnsvedens IK.
The Spirit’s new youth movement join returning veterans Joanna Lohman, Francisca Ordega, Tori Huster, Estelle Johnson, Havana Solaun, Estefania Banini, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé.
The Spirit will also make a preseason return to Evergreen Sportsplex in Leesburg, Va. on March 10 for a friendly against 22-time women’s college champion University of North Carolina. The 2018 NWSL regular season kicks off March 24 and runs through September, with each of the nine teams playing 24 regular season games.
Photos courtesy Washington Spirit