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Washington Spirit lose Mallory Pugh, select five in NWSL draft

The Spirit selected UCLA forward Ashley Sanchez with their highest pick at No. 4 overall

UCLA product Ashley Sanchez walks to the podium after being selected fourth overall in the 2020 NWSL Draft by the Washington Spirit in Baltimore, Maryland. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

BALTIMORE — Despite selecting five players in the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League draft, Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke had to do something Thursday that left him in dismay. 

In order to obtain three top-20 selections this year and a 2021 first round pick, the Spirit traded U.S. women’s national team forward Mallory Pugh to Sky Blue FC

“It was disappointing for me, I have to be very honest. She was not a player I wanted to move,” Burke said. “That is the hardest thing I have had to do. To speak to a player that I had a really good connection to and to have to tell her we traded her, that was horrible. But now I am moving on and looking at the players that we brought in.” 

Thinking long term, the club found value in trading Pugh in order to make its move up the draft order. The concern was likely losing Pugh next season anyway in the expansion draft with the addition of Louisville City in 2021. 

“At that stage, what would we get in value from a business perspective,” Burke said. “I had to be talked into that one because I didn’t want to make it happen.”

The Spirit acquired Mallory Pugh in May, 2017 as part of the NWSL Distribution Process. Pugh played nine games for the Spirit in 2019. She spent the majority of the season with the national team in preparation and at the 2019 FIFA World Cup. 

Before the trades, the Spirit had a pair of picks in the 2020 draft in the third and fourth rounds. The team worked tirelessly through the night to get a trade done to move up without losing any of the current roster, but fell short. The option to obtain the picks from Sky Blue came just minutes before the start of Thursday’s selections. 

“I had no intentions of coming in, sitting on our hands for two rounds and seeing what happened,” Burke said. “This is two drafts back-to-back where we have been very, very lucky things have panned out the way we wanted them to. You can call it good business or good luck. I think it is a little bit of both.” 

The Spirit selected UCLA forward Ashley Sanchez with their highest pick at No. 4 overall. Sanchez’s scoring prowess and finishing ability in the final third mirrors that of Pugh’s. Sanchez left college after her junior year after scoring 23 goals and recording 42 assists over her three years. Washington met with Sanchez’s representative last fall and identified her as a player they wanted to get.  

Overall, the Spirit left Baltimore with five players they had on their target board, including Natalie Jacobs from USC, Averie Collins from Stanford, Katie McClure from Kansas and Kaiya McCullough from UCLA. One player the Spirit had their eyes on was Georgetown’s Meghan Nally, who was selected by the Portland Thorns with the seventh pick of the third round.

“Our draft board changed a little bit, but every player that we picked was in our number of players,” Burke said. “A number of them are going to be really pushing players to get spots and minutes in our team.”

The Spirit’s 2020 picks will join five offseason acquisitions: midfielder Jaye Boissiere, defender Brooke Hendrix and forwards Kumi Yokoyama, Jessie Scarpa and Jenna Hellstrom. Players will report to training camp in the middle of February.  




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