State of the Spirit, Mewis trade edition

You can’t fault the Washington Spirit for trading Kristie Mewis. She’s a strong attacking player who hasn’t been a full-time starter in recent weeks as the Spirit fully embrace their non-contender status and continue to develop a gaggle of young attackers who have been better than expected. She has trade value, and yet it’s reasonable to omit her from the current starting XI.

The question: What are they getting for her, and what does it say about the Spirit’s awareness of where this team really stands?

The early indication from coach Jim Gabarra on Lifetime’s broadcast is that they’re going for even more youth:

Here’s why I’m skeptical: Mark Parsons turned this team around in 2014 and 2015 by trading away a whole bunch of young players for those with more experience. He and fellow English coach Laura Harvey figured it out early on — this league devours rookies. Sometimes, it’s just for a year, and then they figure it out. (See Crystal Dunn, Kealia Ohai, Sarah Killion, etc.) Sometimes, a player whose ACC accomplishments gave Anson Dorrance nightmares simply can’t adjust to a higher level (or playing 90 minutes).

It’s easy to get attached to the 2017 Spirit underdogs. Their third-round draft picks (Arielle Ship, Megan Dougherty Howard) matched up just fine with Boston’s first-round picks in their last home game (to be fair, the Breakers were missing Rose Lavelle, who was resetting our expectations of rookies before her injury). Havana Solaun, all but forgotten in Seattle, has been solid. The Spirit touted Dougherty Howard’s passing acumen in the press release on today’s loss at North Carolina, where the 2-0 scoreline flattered the Courage. Their effort is rarely lacking.

But we saw this in 2013 as well. Some of the losses were unlucky. Injuries took a toll. Unheralded players had bright moments. I was told the passing stats, even more of a secret then than they are today with Opta, made a couple of rookies look fantastic.

Most of those players didn’t last. I count six players from the 2013 roster who are still in the NWSL. (Four of them in Orlando!) That includes three allocated players who had plenty of experience before arriving in Washington.

Several of the young Spirit players are doing better than expected — particularly on offense, which hasn’t been the problem this season. But there’s a difference between overachieving as a rookie or second-year player on a young team and being a true building block of a playoff-contending team in the future.

The Spirit have a glaring immediate need. It’s defense. They’ve conceded 32 goals, second-worst in the league, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe isn’t the problem.

That’s not a need that can easily be filled in a draft. Andi Sullivan has some national team experience and strong D.C.-area ties that might bring her to the Spirit even if they don’t get the No. 1 draft pick (if this were MLS, the Spirit would just slap a “homegrown” tag on her and rest easy), but she should really be a No. 6, not a center back.

Now perhaps the Spirit wouldn’t be able to get a starting center back for Kristie Mewis. Or perhaps they have plans to stockpile some younger players and draft picks, then package them together in a trade.

But Spirit fans have to be hoping the team isn’t expecting to take this year’s squad, add a few draft picks and make the playoffs. That’s simply not a realistic view of where this team stands.

 

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