US Women’s National Team midfielder Andi Sullivan is heading to the Washington Spirit after being selected as the number one pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, stating that she wanted to stay “and help grow the league.”

The Stanford graduate had left it late to declare her availability for today’s draft in Philadelphia, which led to speculation that she could be heading overseas, following in the footsteps of Canadian pair Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, who both skipped last year’s draft to head to France.

But, after taking some time out of soccer to enjoy the holidays and spend some time with her family, she decided that staying at home, was the best thing for her right now.

“After the college season, I kind of just wanted some downtime so i tried to get off the grid a little bit, stay off social media and just hang out with my family,” she said.

“I thought things over and i want to be here playing in the NWSL, so signed up and I’m doing it.”

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Sullivan’s decision to stay in the US will come as a huge boost for the Spirit, who have had an interesting week, gaining the services of North Carolina Courage pair Taylor Smith and 2017 Rookie of the Year, Ashley Hatch, while losing Lindsay Agnew to the Houston Dash and Crystal Dunn’s rights to the Courage. The Spirit gained the Dash’s number 3 draft pick in the Agnew trade, which also saw their number 6 pick go to the Dash.

In joining the Spirit, Sullivan is essentially coming home, growing up less than 20 miles away from Washington DC in Lorton, Virginia.

Having spent the last four years in California studying, she admitted the chance to “go back to her roots,” was an opportunity to give something back to the community. 

“I loved growing up and playing in that area. Many people corroborated in order to help me with my development when I was a kid, playing with different clubs. i feel like that area did a lot for me.

“I’m super excited to return to kind of my roots and I’m excited to play there and I’m hoping to somehow get involved in the community that helped me so much.”

Understandably, Head Coach Jim Gabarra was delighted with his number one pick, and was optimistic that she was a player that the franchise could be built around in years to come.

But he also expressed caution in terms of the demands being placed upon his new recruit, pointing to the injuries that Mal Pugh and Rose Lavelle suffered in their first professional seasons, balancing the demands of both club and national team commitments. 

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“Having the number one pick and having the ability pick Andi is huge because not only is she a local player, but a high quality person that could be a player we build our franchise around for years to come,” he said.

“Her quality as a person probably supersedes her quality as a player and whenever you’re looking at bringing players into a club, especially a first round draft pick, that’s a huge thing.

“We are truly blessed to be able to bring a player and person of her quality and fit her into our club.

“It is her first year professionally. Combining that with the national team camps and the pressure and the stress that’s involved there, its important that we manage her. 

(Picture: Steph Nacho for Women’s Soccer Zone)

Gabarra was confident that having seen Sullivan excel in both the number 6 and number 8 role for Stanford and the national team, that she would be “a real hub in midfield” that could link the defensive line and the forward line.

That wish is well supported by Sullivan’s statistics while captaining Stanford to its second ever NCAA national title. She scored three goals and amassed six assists in her senior year, scoring 20 in total and gaining 18 assists during her time at the Pac 12 university.

Sullivan herself admitted that there are areas of her game she wants to work on to ensure she settles into the league, while also coping with the competitive demands of the competition on a week-to-week basis.

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She confessed that her experiences with the national team would support the transition from college to professional. 

“I think being able to come into a few national team camps will help, just kind of translate my play from college to the league.

“I hope my passing ability will be able to stay strong in the league and kind of see the rhythm of the league, but that will be challenged by the physicality of the play, so there are definitely some things I’d like to work on in the pre-season.”

As already mentioned, Sullivan was late to declare her availability for the draft, which did get people talking as to whether she might follow in the footsteps of Crystal Dunn, Heather O’Reilly and Alex Morgan (among others) and opt for a stint in Europe.

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While she admitted this was something she’d be interested in further down the line, this was not something she felt was the right option, for now.

“Its (Europe) something I considered.

“I think for Ashley (Lawrence) and Kadeisha (Buchanan) that worked out extremely well, and for me personally I felt the timing wasn’t quite right and i wanted to stay here in the US for now.

“But I definitely can see myself playing in Europe in the future. But I wanted to be here in the US and help grow the league and also be as available for camps as possible, which was important to me.”

We’ll be covering the NWSL College Draft as it happens on Twitter at @WoSoZone and we’ll have a podcast reviewing the day soon after. So stay tuned.


Heading photo: Brad Smith, ISI Photos