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In a Busy Week, Washington Spirit Make a Splash at NWSL Draft, Trade Top Defenders, & Name Coach

The Washington Spirit, Germantown’s hometown professional women’s soccer team, had a very busy week.

The team, which ended a disappointing 2018 season with just two wins finishing 2-7-3 and the firing head coach Jim Gabbara, made a big splash in the National Women’s Soccer League annual draft held in Chicago on Thursday, Jan. 10 and shook up their back line trading away two of their top defenders to do so.

Earlier this week, the Spirit formally announced the hiring of Richie Burke as their new head coach, along with a technical staff combining some new hires with some holdovers. The hiring of Burke was first reported by the Washington Post. Burke’s official title is Head Coach and Technical Director, an indicator that team president Chris Hummer will remain the General Manager.

Burke and Hummer, along with newly announced CEO Larry Best, wasted no time shaking things up at this week’s NWSL draft. After completing two trades for additional first round picks in the lead-up to the draft, the Spirit made four of the top nine selections in the 2019 NWSL College Draft on Thursday.

The Spirit selected four players in the first round: midfielder Jordan DiBiasi from Stanford, defender Samantha Staab from Clemson, defender/forward Tegan McGrady from Stanford and midfielder Dorian Bailey from North Carolina. During the draft, the Spirit also acquired a second-round pick from Portland Thorns FC and selected forward/midfielder Bayley Feist with the 17th overall pick.

However, the cost of extra picks was two of the teams best defenders in Estelle Johnson and Caprice Dydasco, and goalkeeper Didi Haracic who were traded to Blue Sky FC, the team which came in dead last in the NWSL in 2019.

The trade sent two of the best defenders in the NWSL to New Jersey. Johnson has played in 72 games for Washington over her four years with the club, also dating back to 2015. The 30-year-old served as captain for the Spirit in 2018, making 21 appearances and logging 1,890 minutes.

While Dydasco played in 60 games with the Spirit during her four seasons with the club since being drafted in 2015 out of UCLA, she appeared in all 24 games last season, finishing among the NWSL’s top 10 league leaders in several major categories, including total touches, interceptions, tackles won and total passes.

Both Johnson and Dydasco played in the 2016 NWSL Championship for Washington.

Haracic, a Bosnia and Herzegovina international, has made nine appearances with Washington over the past two seasons. Her 2018 season was highlighted by a 10-save performance against Utah Royals FC on Aug. 22 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

“Caprice, DiDi and Estelle have made so many incredible contributions to our club over the years and we couldn’t be more thankful,” said Spirit general manager, Chris Hummer. “Decisions like this are never easy, and we’ll always remember them for their professionalism and outstanding impact on the field and in the community. We wish them the best of luck going forward.”

In return for the three players and the No. 29 selection in Thursday’s draft, the Spirit received the No. three overall pick from Sky Blue FC. With the pick, Washington selected Stanford University midfielder Jordan DiBiasi.

DiBiasi is a current member of the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team and is coming off a senior season at Stanford in which she was honored as First Team All-American and was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said new Head Coach Richie Burke. “I think as a football club we knocked it out of the park, and the picks that we got are all fabulous players. I think every single one of them will come into our training ground and from minute-one will be knocking on the door for a starting role in our football club.”

Staab is coming off a senior season at Clemson in which she tallied 11 assists and one goal while helping anchor a tough Tigers defensive unit. She was recently named to the United Soccer Coaches All-America third team for 2018.

McGrady is a member of the senior U.S. Women’s National Team, having earned her first international cap on April 8, 2018, against Mexico. She was tabbed as a third-team All-American after a standout 2018 campaign with Stanford.

Both DiBiasi and McGrady were members of Stanford’s 2017 NCAA Women’s College Cup champion team alongside current Spirit and U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Andi Sullivan.

Bailey, a member of the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team, started all 27 games for the national runner-up North Carolina Tar Heels as a senior, tallying five goals and three assists. Her most prolific collegiate season came in 2017 as a junior when she netted six goals and assisted nine more, earning second-team All-ACC honors.

Feist earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2018 with Wake Forest. She finished her college career with 78 games played and 61 total starts, totaling 54 points on 22 goals and 10 assists.

On Friday, the Spirit waived goalkeeper Kelsey Wys at her request in order to pursue opportunities overseas. The 27-year-old goalkeeper from Florida State University played three seasons with the Spirit, making 34 appearances for the club. During her first season with the club in 2015, Wys played in 11 games, recording two clean sheets. In 2016, she appeared in 12 games over the course of the regular season and postseason, earning two clean sheets and making 61 saves, and started the 2016 NWSL Championship match. She did not appear in any regular season games for the Spirit in 2017 due to injury. She made one appearance for the Spirit in 2018, playing a full 90 minutes against the Chicago Red Stars.

Just prior to Thursday’s draft, on January 4, the team announced the hiring of Larry Best as the club’s first Chief Executive Officer. In this role, Best is responsible for all club strategy and operations, including the hiring and management of technical staff. Spirit owner Bill Lynch said: “Larry brings to our club an unmatched skill set and visionary thought leadership from his decades of soccer and business experience. He has served our game as a player, business executive, technical director, and coach.”

Spirit CEO Larry Best sought coaches with UEFA and U.S. Soccer Advanced Badges and Licenses as part of the criteria for building out the technical coaching group.

Joining Burke as newcomers on Washington’s staff are Michael Minthorne who will serve as the High-Performance Coach and Christian Cziommer as Tactical Analyst & Team Performance Coach. Returning members of the

Spirit technical staff include former interim Head Coach Tom Torres as Player/Opponent Analyst & Technical Development Coach and Kati Jo “KJ” Spisak as Scouting & Reserve Team Head Coach. The club also retained Ben Berczek to serve as Equipment Manager & Training Coordinator.

“A major component in our vision for the club’s culture of success is the leadership of our technical team,” said Best. “We're extremely excited for this unified group to get started in building our standards of excellence through a style of play and methodology that will transform our organization.”

Burke joins the Spirit after serving as head coach of D.C. United’s Under-23 team. He coached with D.C. United’s academy program from 2005-2010 and went on to manage Scottish Professional Football League club Livingston FC from 2012-2013. He later re-joined the D.C. United organization in 2014 after returning to the U.S.


Top: Three of the Washington Spirit’s top draft picks in the 2019 NWSL College Draft with the newly announced head coach of the Spirit. From left; Samantha Staab, Tegan McGrady, Head Coach Richie Burke, and Jordan DiBiasi.

Video: The Spirit’s top draft picks of 2019.

Next: The Spirit traded defenders Estelle Johnson and Caprice Dydasco, along with goaltender Didi Haracic to Sky Blue FC for the third overall pick in the draft, with with the Spirit selected Jordan DiBiasi.

Next: Caprice Dydasco was traded to Sky Blue FC.

Next: The Spirit's 2019 NWSL College Draft picks.

Video: Jordan DiBiasi addresses the media after being picked third overall by the Washington Spirit.

Video: Samatha Staab addresses the media at the NWSL draft held in Chicago on Thursday.

Video: Tegan McGrady, the fourth overall pick in the NWSL draft, addresses the media.

Photos and video courtesy Washington Spirit via Twitter.