NWSL Preview: Washington Spirit to Rely on Ashley Hatch, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh and Andi Sullivan

Washington Spirit

BOYDS, MARYLAND (March 19, 2018) — The Washington Spirit hit the lottery in bringing in young talent to their roster.

After acquiring Mallory Pugh midway through last season, the Spirit picked up Rose Lavelle, Ashley Hatch, and Andi Sullivan.

The youthful roster that Washington boasts will help the resurgence of a team that was in last place in 2017.

Preview: Washington Spirit to Rely on Ashley Hatch, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh and Andi Sullivan

The four newest additions all are attacking players and have proven themselves worthy to be immediate starters. Lavelle and Pugh are known for their work with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Lavelle was a promising midfielder for the Boston Breakers and the Spirit didn’t hesitate in selecting her first in the dispersal draft when Boston folded.

However, Lavelle didn’t see much action for Boston last season. She injured her hamstring during the season, keeping her sidelined. She only featured in 10 matches, starting eight. She scored two goals in a Breakers uniform.

Meanwhile, Hatch — the NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2017 — has already established herself as a threat at forward.

Hatch was acquired by the Spirit via a trade with the North Carolina Courage. Last season in Cary, Hatch started 13 out of 22 matches she featured in, scoring seven goals and providing one assist.

Add in Sullivan, who was drafted with the number one overall pick in this year’s NWSL College Draft, and youth surrounds the Spirit.

Head Coach Jim Gabarra has some veteran presence, though, especially on defense. Gabarra also acquired Taylor Smith in his trade with the Courage. Smith joins a veteran defense already made up with Caprice Dydasco and Estelle Johnson.

In goal, the Spirit acquired Aubrey Bledsoe, who featured for the Orlando Pride last season.

Bledsoe got her feet wet in NWSL action while serving in goal for the Pride last season. After Ashlyn Harris fell to injury, Bledsoe stepped up and recorded two shutouts in 10 appearances.

DiDi Haracic and Kelsey Wys are also listed as goalkeepers on Gabarra’s roster.

Player to Watch

Gabarra has a ton of new players on his roster, but Hatch will be the player to watch.

After claiming the NWSL Player of the Year title in 2017, Hatch has a big role with Washington. Her biggest asset will be setting herself apart from Sullivan, Lavelle and especially Pugh.

While she needs to work with her fellow, young teammates, Hatch can’t get overwhelmed by the additional firepower around her. She’s just as talented as the other three, despite not getting the same international call-ups as them.

While USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis refuses to give Hatch a fair shot, it’s up to Gabarra to not let her fall through the cracks.

Hatch’s NWSL resume is more impressive than Pugh and Lavelle’s, especially when it comes to matches where she earned a cap.

Thoughts on Head Coach Jim Gabarra

Gabarra’s seat isn’t hot yet, but it won’t take long should the Spirit find themselves toward the bottom of the table.

This isn’t Gabarra’s first rodeo in head coaching in the NWSL. He was formerly the head coach of Sky Blue FC — twice. Gabarra also serves as the general manager for Washington, and his talents shone during the off-season.

How he managed to get Pugh, Lavelle, Sullivan, Hatch and Smith in the off-season just shows awareness and tactical genius. Even more, Gabarra managed to keep talented players like Dydasco, Havana Solaun and Francisca Ordega on his roster.

The oldest player on Gabarra’s team is Joanna Lohman, who is 35 years old. However, there are only two other players that join Lohman as players born in the 1980s: Estelle Johnson, who is 29 years old, and Tori Huster, who is 28 years old.

Other than those three, the rest of the players were born in the 1990s.

Gabarra doesn’t have much veteran presence on his roster. However, when it comes to flexibility, he has depth and a lot of hungry players.

This is a roster of players that don’t want a last-place finish like last year.

Who the Spirit Lost in the Off-Season

Stephanie Labbé was the biggest loss of the off-season.

Labbé ended her season early last year to focus on her mental health. Taking her place in goal was Haracic, who featured in the last seven matches.

Labbé’s new home is with the Calgary Foothills FC of the USL’s Premier Development League. She signed with the club in March and is the first female goalkeeper to join the USL club.

The Spirit released her rights after she requested a release.

In addition to Labbé, the Spirit also waived Line Jensen and Alyssa Kleiner. Lindsay Agnew and Tiffany Weimer joined the Houston Dash while Shelina Zadorsky headed down south to the Pride.

Kassey Kallman retired from the NWSL while Cheyna Matthews announced that she will miss the season with a pregnancy announcement.

Season Prediction

With a talented roster filled with youth, it might take a few matches for this Spirit team to click together.

However, what the biggest issue for the team last year endured was defense. Gabarra took steps to fix the problem, bringing in Smith and drafting Brittany Basinger. Now, they just need to click.

I predict that Washington will just barely make the NWSL playoffs by finishing in fourth place. While they have a good chance of punching their ticket to the final round, I believe the lack of veteran presence will cost them a trophy.

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