The Washington Spirit entered the 2023 NWSL Draft with just two picks. Thanks to a flurry of activity after the first round, they ended up selecting six intriguing talents. Recently, we got to chat with each Spirit draft pick to get the inside scoop on their draft experience, their role with the team, their game, and what they’re looking forward to about life in DC.
Here’s 30th overall draft pick Riley Tanner, in her own words:
Riley Tanner spent NWSL draft night in a hotel room with the Panama National Team. The University of Alabama forward had just received her first official call-up to the team’s January camp and was in her hotel room in Colombia with about 5 of her teammates when she got the news that she had been drafted by the Washington Spirit.
“That was special, just to share that moment with them. I definitely wish I could have been with my family, but it was still a really cool night, and I was able to celebrate with [my teammates].”
In addition to dealing with the stress and confusion of her own draft day, Tanner had the added duty of both explaining what a draft was to her Panama teammates unfamiliar with the U.S. system and translating the chaos that was the 2023 NWSL Draft into Spanish for them as they watched on tv.
Eventually, Tanner received a call from Spirit Assistant Coach Angela Salem, which she took in the bathroom, letting her know that she would be selected by the Spirit.
“That moment was just insane,” she said, describing it as “when dreams became reality.” When she emerged from the bathroom, “everyone dogpiled me.” Tanner said all of her teammates were happy and excited for her when she broke the news.
“Being new to the Panama team, just having that support from them was really special and made me feel like I was a part of their team.”
Draft day surprises
Before her own draft day experience, Tanner said she “never really paid attention to the steps of being drafted.” She was surprised by the “trades and allocation money being thrown around” at the NWSL draft. “I had no idea that’s what would happen on a draft day.”
Tanner herself was selected by the Spirit after a pair of last-minute trades. The team first traded Emily Sonnett to OL Reign in exchange for the 32nd pick of the draft, then sent that pick and $30,000 to Houston Dash for the 30th pick. They used that pick to select Tanner.
“You guys probably knew before I even knew,” Tanner joked about the chaos of the 2023 draft.
There were other pleasant surprises at the draft: “[I] know people in the soccer world; it’s so small. Seeing all of [my] friends being picked was just so awesome.”
Her style of play
“I’m definitely a very team-minded player,” Tanner said of her playing style. Listed as a forward on the Spirit’s pre-season roster, Tanner said she focuses on going 1-v-1 and looking for opportunities to set up her teammates.
Of course, Tanner is also perfectly capable of scoring goals of her own.
“I’m more on the creative side and definitely on the more offensive side. But a lot of times my mindset is team-first, whatever I need to do to help this team win. Whether that’s a cross or get[ting] the shot off… [I’m] an all-encompassing, more offensive-minded playmaker for the team.”
Goals for her first pro season
“The rookie season can be hard, so definitely some goals of mine are to compete within the team and try to earn the respect of my teammates and work very hard to potentially, hopefully, get a roster spot, a traveling spot, and hopefully try to work my way onto the field.”
“Whatever the coaches see fit, whatever the coaches want, I just want to be there to support my teammates and continue to have the love for the game.”
Being in DC
“Washington, DC just has so much of our history, and I haven’t been to D.C. since I was probably 12 years old. Probably back then I didn’t appreciate it as much, just the young mind.” Now in the city as an adult, she hoped to have time on one of her days off to visit the monuments and museums on the National Mall.
Tanner plans to do some general site-seeing as well, saying “City vibes are always fun. You can walk everywhere…. Obviously just for a weekend. I don’t think I could live in a city.” Like many Spirit players, Tanner is living in Virginia, closer to the team’s training facilities.
Tanner also has some family and friends who live in the D.C. area who she’d like to visit.
What she’ll be doing on her days off
In her time off from training with the Spirit, Tanner especially hoped to visit a Saturday morning farmer’s market outside of the team apartment building and find places to go out to eat with her new teammates.
“In soccer, you’re lucky enough to have built-in best friends, and I hope to get to that point with this team. It’s a little bit early, but I definitely want to build that culture within the team and hopefully gain some friends there.”