The 2013 Spirit’s incompetence led to something of a mixed bag last Friday. On the one hand, it allowed them to walk away with the #1 pick in the draft, which they used to take Crystal Dunn, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Dunn’s going to have the chance to help turn around the fortunes for the long suffering fans in the nation’s capital, and she’s probably the best player to come out of the college game and into the pros in ages. Obviously, putting Dunn in the role that best helps the team will be paramount, though it’s hard envisioning a zone on the pitch where the former Hermann Trophy winner isn’t going to succeed in. Sticking her at left-back is probably the “safe” option and would stabilize the defense while giving Washington some great options going forward at full-back. Playing Dunn in midfield might take a little more creativity, especially considering the group of attacking midfielders isn’t exactly replete with size with Diana Matheson and Christine Nairn seemingly locks for the lineup. Whatever the solution, it should be fun for Mark Parsons and Spirit fans as they try to settle on the club’s best lineup option.
But the pessimist/realist (depending on your opinion of my opinion of the Spirit) in me views the rest of the draft as an indicator of just how much damage was done by the club’s brass as they flailed in denial at the plight of the team last season. The disastrous Lindsay Taylor trade that cost the club its second round pick is the main source of pain for Spirit fans, but the deal that sent their third round pick away for Renae Cuellar and Jodie Taylor is another move that could be costly in the end, though bringing Taylor in could be a masterstroke if she plays to her potential. Beyond trading picks away though, the Spirit appear to have been a bit too attached to some of last year’s players, tentatively returning fourteen players from last year’s basement club. It probably would’ve been too much to ask for for a total demolition job, but the Spirit’s inability or refusal to swap assets for picks in a loaded draft may ultimately come back to bite them, as they walked away with just one of the draft’s first twenty-five picks.
Then again, it’s pretty easy to be cynical about the Spirit’s draft strategy given their final two picks in this year’s draft. The club was panned last year for their naivety in depending heavily on local players to make up the numbers on the roster, particularly when it became apparent that many of said players couldn’t make the grade at this level. Drafting from a powerhouse Virginia team might look like a great strategy on paper, but few are likely to confuse that UVA side’s back four with conquerer UCLA’s million dollar backline. Molly Menchel was a borderline pick and a slight reach at the end of the third round, while Shasta Fisher was one of the day’s more puzzling selections. The duo join a Spirit side that suddenly looks bloated from additions through trades, allocations, and the draft. Dunn aside, many might question if quantity may be trumping quality at this point.
1 – Crystal Dunn – D/MF – North Carolina
The Spirit made really the only move they could have, taking Dunn to be the new cornerstone of the franchise. Won just about everything there was to win at both individual and club level before being taken first overall in Friday’s draft, including a Hermann Trophy, numerous All-America honors, a U20 World Cup title, and a national title with North Carolina. Played just about everywhere at college level and played well as a defender in UNC’s 3-4-3, as a left-winger in the same formation, and as an attacking midfielder causing havoc in the space between the backline and the midfield for opponents. Dribbling skill and pace with the ball at her feet are exceptional, to the point that the temptation to use her in a more attacking role may be too much to overcome at some point. Cool as ice in front of the goal and a big-time scorer as her record against top opposition this season attests to. She’ll probably be the club’s left-back in the short-term, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them build the team around her in the long-term, which may mean an attacking role at the heart of the midfield. It also might mean blowing up the team around her as well to craft an XI that’s balanced, which would definitely not be the case if Dunn joined the likes of Nairn and Matheson in the attack right now. The early favorite for Rookie of the Year if all goes according to plan.