NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Washington Spirit – Capital Club Gets Their Woman Before Falling Into Old Habits

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.

26 – Molly Menchel – D – Virginia

So, apparently, the Spirit decided after drafting a player who should theoretically be their left-back from now until the end of time that they needed another left-back. The logic escapes me, especially when the club could have found value at center-back or gotten more dynamic at attacking midfielder, with a glut of defensive midfielders already on the roster overshadowing Diana Matheson and Christine Nairn. Menchel’s not a bad player, but her deficiencies were all too apparent in the club’s College Cup shootout defeat to UCLA. She’s technically proficient, as almost all Virginia grads are, but I question whether she’s going to be able to hold up against the more explosive wingers and full-backs she’s likely to face at the next level. The more athletic Haley Palmer may not have been as popular a choice but may have been a better pick long-term. I’m not sure what Menchel’s role is going to be beyond late game sub when the team is chasing the game and moves Dunn into the attack. That is, of course, counting on Dunn playing full-back for the Spirit.

29 – Shasta Fisher – D – Virginia

I thought the Menchel pick was defensible on some level if the Spirit were looking to find some way to play Crystal Dunn more in the attack and believed the Virginia left-back was a solution to the black hole on the left side of the defense that’s settled over the Maryland SoccerPlex since the beginning of last season. This pick? Yeah, much less defensible, as you might guess from the fact that Fisher was the only draftee on Friday I didn’t have rated on my board. I don’t think anybody that started for a juggernaut like Virginia last season can be ruled a total stiff, but Fisher was clearly the weak link on a back four that also featured Menchel, Emily Sonnett, and Morgan Stith. She’s not the biggest center-back and certainly not the fastest either, facts that I fear are going to become very apparent when she’s matched up against the creme de la creme of the NWSL. There’s no question the Spirit needed center-back depth, but it’s really puzzling that the club didn’t take a flyer on someone like Shelina Zadorsky (even if she’d take up an international slot), Rachael Doyle (likewise), or Holly Hein. I suspect Fisher wasn’t on too many teams’ radars, and the Spirit could have likely easily added her as an undrafted free agent going into camp. As is, it looks like another example of local ties trumping aggression in the draft.

10 thoughts on “NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Washington Spirit – Capital Club Gets Their Woman Before Falling Into Old Habits

  1. Corinne

    I was very excited to see Molly Menchel drafted because left-back was so upsetting last season, but come on Spirit!
    My hope is that she’ll be traded (Breakers, mayhaps? After losing Klingenberg?) because Krieger-Dunn would be the fullback duo to set your damn watch by.

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  2. Diane P.

    Although I was surprised that the Spirit did not draft forwards, I was shocked at their picks after Dunn. My only disagreements with your article are 1) I do not have the faith you do that Narin is the answer to any of their problems on offense unless she has no defensive responsibilities (not a two way player). 2) Matheson is a nice player but is not a proven scorer either. Remember 4 or 5 of her goals where PKs. Lastly, the Spirit did end up in last place but it was not their defense that cost them as much as a lack of a quality finisher. Personally, I hope Parson uses a 4-2-3-1 and allows the front 4 to really attack.

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  3. Beau Dure

    The drafts have not been the Spirit’s problem. They actually got all four of their draftees to play last year until two got hurt. A lot of teams didn’t.

    This year, the biggest problem was the Taylor trade, which had already been made.

    Not mentioned here is the fourth-round pick they traded for Tiffany Weimer.

    The Menchel pickup shouldn’t surprise anyone who read some book about the Spirit. She trained with the senior team a good bit last year while she played with the Spirit Reserves.

    The “total demolition” was never a good idea. But in any case, not all the players returning from last year are guaranteed spots. I count 27 players if you include the two discovery picks. That’s a lot of cuts.

    Meanwhile, they’ve added Averbuch, Dunn, Nairn, Cuellar, Taylor, Weimer, Adams, Menchel, Fisher, Discovery Player #1 (possibly) and Discovery Player #2 (possibly). We’ll also need to see how healthy Jordan Angeli is — she was making good progress late last summer.

    The players they’ve kept? Harris and Jones are a terrific goalkeeping tandem. They kept their three best field players in Krieger, Huster and Matheson.

    So in short — this is not last year’s Spirit team. They’re much more experienced — really, why would you want to add a bunch of youngsters to a team that was already green?

    The question mark is center back. I wonder if they’re going to trade on of their surplus forwards for a center back — or if their discovery players happen to be backs. Or if Chapman has miraculously regained her health — they weren’t bad on the rare occasions Chapman and Pressley were able to play together. But they can put Dunn and Huster at several positions. (Sadly, not at once.)

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  4. Luke

    The Spirit won’t be as poor as last season. But it looks like they still might finish last, given that the strong teams remained strong (or got even stronger), and the weak teams of last season improved their lot (Seattle, Chicago). Boston might struggle without Leroux to count on for goals. And Sky Blue had a disappointing draft and lost some depth. But something tells me the Spirit will be bottom of the table. I hope I’m wrong…the DC fans deserve better.

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  5. john

    Don’t entirely follow your “the drafts haven’t been the problem” comment. Spirit has a track record for 1 draft. Injuries and declining performance led them to play the whole roster. It wasn’t a result of brillant selections. You just wrote that Menchel was a stretch and Fisher had you shaking your head. Those picks may turn out to be great, but this year’s draft can’t be rated. We’ll all hope we watch Spirit win the League.

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  6. Beau Dure

    But two of the injured Spirit players were draftees who were starting to break out a bit.

    Any draft that gets Caroline Miller in the second round can’t be that bad.

    The supplemental draft also wasn’t bad. Stephanie Ochs was a solid No. 1, and Tori Huster was a terrific second-round pick. Jordan Angeli was a third-round gamble that may yet pay off. Also a good bit of geographic diversity there.

    I don’t think Menchel’s a stretch. She plays several positions, too — not sure why she’s pigeon-holed at left back here.

    I don’t know much about Shasta Fisher. But in the fourth round, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with gambling a little on a local player.

    So, in short — I think the prevailing wisdom that the Spirit keep shooting themselves in the foot by going for cheap local picks (Chris doesn’t say “cheap” here — others tack that on) in the drafts simply doesn’t hold water. You could say they missed with their first-round college pick last year, though honestly, who expected McCarty to struggle as she did?

    Now can someone explain to me how the Boston Breakers, with a Carolina assistant coach, can take three Duke alumni?

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  7. Fitzcamel

    When it comes to the performance of the Spirit’s 2013 college draftees, who are we trying to kid, here?
    Miller and Williams had 6 shots, no goals, no assists between them. McCarty had two goals (two!), no assists all season. King played under 650 minutes and is now apparently out of soccer. (Again I come back to the fact that the Spirit could have taken Nairn and Tymrak with their first two picks. And Nairn is local.) And the supplemental draft was fine — but what about the discovery players?

    As for the current draft — maybe Menchel is better than everyone has given her credit for; but wouldn’t it make more sense to put Dunn at LB and draft a strong attacking mid, instead? And if you need a CB, why Fisher instead of, say, Hein or Zadorsky? Does being local carry that much weight in DC?

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  8. Steve

    I think with Fisher and Menchel, Parsons just went with smarter players who understand the game well. This increases their chances of adjusting well to the pro game. Also, Fisher rotated to right back frequently last year, and that flexibility is a plus, given that Krieger will probably be missing matches for USWNT duty at some point. The Spirit will be a better team this year, but not a playoff team. Also, I disagree with Mr. Dure: last year’s college draft was a complete disaster, and the free agent signings were not good or productive (Chapman, Wells, Toulouse, Pressley).

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  9. Diane P.

    Shasta Fisher did attend UVA the past 4 years, but other then that she is far from being local. She lived in California, and played out there in the WPS the past 2 years. My big concern about drafting both her and Menchel is that for me a draft choice should be used on players who would not be around to be chosen as a developmental player. Time will tell about this draft.

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  10. chuckie

    Don’t be surprised if Dunn end up being used similar to what happened at UNC. Start helping on defense but if Washington is not scoring and winning games watch how quickly she gets moved to the midfield. Way too much attacking talent to leave in the back and her electrifying playing style will draw excitement in the stadium

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