Top draft picks Rebecca Quinn (left) and Andi Sullivan get their first professional minutes in Richmond alongside veteran Estelle Johnson (photo courtesy of the Washington Spirit).
A core of very young and very promising players will determine the Spirit’s 2018 success and, one hopes, success for years to come
Shortly after the draft it occurred to me that just about every marquee young player to come down the pike since the NWSL was founded has ended up with the Spirit: Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh, Andi Sullivan. The only exception was Rose Lavelle, and then the Spirit got her, too, trading to be able to pick her in the dispersal draft when the Breakers folded. (I guess you could make a case for Morgan Brian being another exception, but roll with me here.)
I asked head coach Jim Gabarra about the “quality youth movement,” though he took it more as a chance to talk about the cohesion of players who were already familiar with each other. “Yes, I think any time you can add pockets of players that are comfortable with each other, with the national team, or maybe with a college or club team, I think it expedites that process of getting to know each other and I think there’ll be more energy and more buy-in into how they want to play. I think with the group we have here they’re going to have a lot of say into how the culture is, what our goals are. To get Rose, I think everyone sees her as an immensely talented player, and we just want to get her healthy right now. Her fit with Andi and Mal and Taylor and Hatch and the players who have been with the national team for the last year or two is something that provides stability and when you have that integration, that’s beneficial to all the players, gives them a little bit of confidence, a little bit of security, a little bit of a known in an unknown, uncomfortable situation.”
But it’s clear that this year’s team has a core of players who are both outstanding and young. To put it in perspective, of the five youngest players called up for next month’s USWNT friendlies, three of them (Pugh, Sullivan, and Ashley Hatch) wear the blue-and-red. And the youngest one Tiena Davidson, isn’t even in the NWSL yet. (Sky Blue’s Savannah McCaskill is the remaining interloper, six months younger than Andi.) And if Lavelle were healthy, she’d have made it four out of six, less than two weeks older than Hatch. Taylor Smith was left off this time but has been called up before. She’d be the ninth youngest, months older than Jane Campbell and Lindsey Horan but just a week younger than Emily Sonnett.