Spirit add Smith, Hatch, third pick in pre-Draft deals

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Taylor Smith, seen here last season as a member of the North Carolina Courage, will be joining the Washington Spirit for the 2018 season (photo credit: J. Alexander Dolan)

The Washington Spirit took a major step towards upgrading their defense and attack on Tuesday acquiring Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch as well as the number three overall pick in a series of trades. The club acquired Smith and Hatch from the North Carolina Courage in exchange for the rights to Crystal Dunn and an international roster spot. They also moved up in Thursday’s NWSL Draft by acquiring the third overall pick from the Houston Dash for the sixth overall pick and midfielder/defender Lindsay Agnew.

Smith,24, made 18 starts for the Courage last season mostly at right back. The University of Texas alumni helped form one of the tightest defensive units in the NWSL allowing just 22 goals during the regular season. She was also a member of the 2016 Western New York Flash side (that would inevitably move to North Carolina) that won the 2016 NWSL Title over the Spirit and has made seven appearances for the United States Women’s National Team.

Hatch(left) was the 2017 NWSL Rookie of the Year for the Courage.

Hatch,22, earned the 2017 NWSL Rookie of the Year award after having  scored seven goals and tallied one assist for the Courage. With the addition of Hatch, forward Mallory Pugh, and midfielder Megan Dougherty Howard the Spirit now possess the top three finalists for last year’s Rookie of the Year honors another sign of the club’s move towards building around younger players. The club will continue their youth movement on Thursday at the NWSL College Draft. After the trade with the Dash the Spirit will have two of the top three picks in the Draft (#1 and #3) as well as two picks in the second round (#11 and #16), two picks in the third round (#21 and #26), and one pick in the fourth round (#31). The Spirit are expected to select Andi Sullivan of Lorton, Virginia and Stanford University with the first overall pick.

Tuesday’s trade with the Courage also marked the official end of Dunn’s three year stay with the Spirit. Although the USWNT forward and 2015 NWSL MVP spent last season with Chelsea her rights were still technically tied to the Spirit. In a tweet from Dunn on Tuesday it appeared that she is willing to move back to the NWSL.

While additions through the draft may help in the long-term the additions of Smith and Hatch represent immediate upgrades in both the defense and the attack for the Spirit. Washington allowed 48 goals last season which was the most for any side in the NWSL and in particular struggled to find any consistency at right-back. Smith has shown for both club and country that she can track attackers on the counter-attack while at the same making decisive tackles to disrupt plays. Her speed will also prove valuable on coach Jim Gabarra’s own designs on the counter an option that the club did not have last season. She also fostered a bit of a partnership with Hatch late in the season something that Spirit supporters will hope to see reprised at the Maryland SoccerPlex next season.

The addition of Hatch is perhaps the more interesting of the two due to the depth that the Spirit have at the position. Along with Hatch and Pugh (six goals last season), the clubs options up top also include Francisca Ordega (four goals), Arielle Shipp (one goal), and Cheyna Williams (six goals). In the past Gabarra has liked to use a 4-4-2 past and given how much the club has staked in Pugh there may be only one space open up top. Look for the Spirit to tinker with their outside midfielders during the preseason with both Williams and Ordega possibly getting some minutes there. The club may also trade one or two of their attackers up top with the aim of either stockpiling future draft picks or further solidifying their defense.

The NWSL College Draft will be held on Thursday at 11am EST at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. All four rounds of the Draft will be streamed live on Facebook, YouTube, NWSLSoccer.com, and the NWSL App.

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Senior Editor-Prost Amerika. Reporter-Soccer 360 Magazine and SoccerWire. Occasional Podcaster- Radio MLS. Member of the North American Soccer Reporters union. Have a story idea? Email me: managers@prostamerika.com

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