Long-term plan paying off for Washington Spirit after successful 2018 draft week
Spirit looking to the future after adding Sullivan, Hatch, Smith
Washington Spirit draft picks Schuyler DeBree and Mallory Eubanks, and coach Jim Gabarra. (Photo credit: Jose L. Argueta/isiphotos.com)
Washington Spirit draft picks Schuyler DeBree and Mallory Eubanks, and coach Jim Gabarra. (Photo credit: Jose L. Argueta/isiphotos.com)

By Lauren Green

Philadelphia — A year after the Washington Spirit acquired U.S. international Mallory Pugh, Jim Gabarra added to a young Spirit squad Thursday with two of the top three picks at the 2018 NWSL College Draft. Stanford product and MAC Hermann Trophy winner Andi Sullivan was the top pick and Duke’s Rebecca Quinn went No. 3.

For Sullivan, being the top pick didn’t start to sink in until earlier this week.

“I was kind of hoping to be picked first. I mean, you don’t really know. There are a lot of good players in the draft,” Sullivan said on a conference call Wednesday night before the draft. “Today was kind of the first real moment of taking pictures with the jersey and stuff like that. It was like, ‘Oh this is actually happening.’ Pretty cool.”

The Stanford product will fit in well with the Spirit’s style of play.

“She’s proven at the national team level that she can play in the 6 role, she can play in the 8 role,” Gabarra said. “She’s a really good fit for what our style of play is with the Spirit and that’s possession oriented. She can link the defensive line to the forward line and she can also get forward into the attack and become dangerous in scoring chances.”

The Spirit head coach cautioned fans against expecting too much from the first-year pro, especially after watching Pugh’s transition in Washington last season. Sullivan won the NCAA title with Stanford last year and, on Sunday night, earned her eighth cap with the U.S. women’s national team.

“It’s slightly different but the key thing to remember her is that it will be her first year professionally,” Gabarra said. “And combining that with the national team and camps and the pressure and stress there, it’s really important that we manage her. You look at last season and look at both Mal and Rose Lavelle. They went through a really difficult season with injuries because it’s something that these players aren’t used to.

“I still think it’s difficult to come into this league as a younger national team player with the full team. They’re used to coming out and having a little bit of a break or going back to their college season where the competition and intensity level are not as high.”

Gabarra, who is in his third year as head coach in Washington, was pleased overall with how the draft turned out for his club.

“I’m really excited for the possibilities,” Gabarra said. “We’re in a really good position through trades and draft picks and having the number one pick and the ability to pick Andi is huge because [she’s] not only a local player, a high-quality person who could be a person we build our franchise around for years to come.”

The Spirit finished at the bottom of the standings in 2017, but are beginning to benefit from a plan that began more than a year ago.

“The process with our roster started 15 months ago and we have made some difficult moves,” Gabarra said after the draft. “Now it’s time to benefit from the next step in that plan. We’ve drafted some really good quality international players and some really good young players.”

In the days before the draft, the Spirit sent the rights to Crystal Dunn to the North Carolina Courage and acquired defender Taylor Smith and forward Ashley Hatch. After earning league MVP honors in 2016, Dunn played overseas for Chelsea FC in the FA Women’s Super League in 2017. Following the trade, Washington has two rookie of the year finalists on its roster—Hatch, who was named the 2017 Rookie of the Year, and Pugh—as well as another standout rookie in Meggie Dougherty Howard.

Dougherty Howard played in 23 games for the Spirit last season, starting 21 and logging 1,911 minutes of game action. She will be one of the young players that will form a core group with the Spirit’s first round picks in Sullivan and Quinn. But they won’t be the only young players looking to make an impact on the Spirit.

The Spirit selected also Schuyler Debree, another Duke product, with the first pick of the second round. Debree, who battled back after an ACL tear during her sophomore season, suited up and played 10 matches for the Washington Spirit Reserves during the summer of 2015.

“It’s so surreal. This is amazing. Coming in this year, I don’t think I would have said that confidently that I was going to be in the first or second round,” Debree said of being draft. “Washington is an amazing [organization] and I had a great experience when I played with them in the W-League [in 2015]. Washington is a great area and they have a sick team coming in.”

Debree started and played in 26 matches during her senior season and logged a team-high 2,341 minutes. She led a backline that posted a school-record 18 shutouts, including five in the NCAA tournament.

Washington rounded out its 2018 NWSL College Draft by selecting Mallory Eubanks (No. 16 overall), Brittany Basinger (No. 21 overall), Maddie Huster (No. 26 overall) and Rachel Moore (No. 31 overall). Huster is the younger sister of Spirit stalwart Tori Huster.

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