USWNT superstar and three-time NWSL champion Crystal Dunn has signed with reigning champions Gotham FC, at long-last playing club soccer near her childhood home of Long Island.
Dunn is the first high-profile signing in just the second year of NWSL free agency, after announcing at the end of the 2023 season that she’d be stepping away from the Portland Thorns. She joins an already stacked roster that includes multiple NWSL and World Cup winners, fresh off the club’s first Championship title.
“Crystal is an exceptional player who can play anywhere at any time and have an incredible impact on the game,” Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amorós said in a team release. “We are excited to have a player of her quality join us for this upcoming season as we look to continue to build upon the success of last season.”
An established winner with awards too plentiful to list in full for club and country, the 31-year-old had many factors to consider when making a decision where to pursue the next chapter of her career.
Reports in the offseason linked a “significant offer” of up to $400,000 a year from the Orlando Pride to the midfielder, as well as interest from both Gotham and the Washington Spirit. Gotham’s vision and the pull of home won out, with Dunn signing on in a multi-year deal through 2026.
“I’ve worked extremely hard in my career, [and] getting a really good contract is something that I’m like, ‘Yeah, I truly deserve it. I’ve won a lot in this league, I have been successful, I’ve competed at the highest level,’ Dunn told Just Women’s Sports prior to Sunday’s announcement. “But I also know that I am a mom, I’m a wife, I have so many things that matter to me along with being successful and winning and helping teams win.”
“It really came down to that,” she continued. “It was kind of like, I’m either going back home, or I’m still going to be a nomad and I’m going to be far away and see my family once or twice a year.”
While this is her first foray into NWSL free agency, Dunn has never been afraid to make those necessary nomadic journeys to be happy in her club environment. Drafted by Washington in 2014, she made the jump to Chelsea FC in England in 2017, and then returned to the NWSL the following year through a trade between the Spirit and the North Carolina Courage.
She then requested a trade to Portland in 2020 to be near husband Pierre Soubrier, a trainer with the Thorns at the time (Soubrier was fired from his position in early 2023.)
Dunn is keenly aware of the NWSL’s history of strict rules that impact player agency.
“I was very fortunate in my career where, if I wanted to change or wanted to make a move, I was able to kind of fall into the place that I ultimately want to play. And I know that that’s not the reality for a lot of players,” she says.
She notes how rare it is for players who fight for progress to reap the benefits while they’re still playing, something she’s grateful for. “I’m such an advocate for free agency, because players should have leverage, they should have some control and some say over where they want to go.”
“And they should be able to say that ‘Hey, I’m a good player, and I know I can help this organization, so give me a try.’”
Dunn also had a little bit of fun with the process, participating in the 2023 NWSL Skills Challenge prior to the Championship game as an unattached free agent, joking that she was “looking for a job.” But the decision to make the announcement that she’d be leaving the Thorns long before she’d made her final decision on a new club came from a more serious place: wanting to say goodbye.
“That moment is special in its own, and I think it allowed my fans to kind of hear me and hear that message loud and clear from me, versus getting it heard from the club,” she said. “So I think I’m happy I did it the way that I did, because I also think I wasn’t completely certain where I wanted to go just yet.”
Now with her attention fully focused on New Jersey, Dunn mentions that showing up in a new environment for the first time always feels a little bit like being the new kid at school, but she won’t be lacking for friendly faces.
She’s joining USWNT teammates Lynn Williams and Midge Purce, as well as former Portland teammates Abby Smith and Yazmeen Ryan and former North Carolina teammate Taylor Smith, among others. Her USWNT connections could run further still, as reports have also connected free agents Tierna Davidson, Emily Sonnett, and Rose Lavelle to advanced talks with Gotham.
Numerous connections gave Dunn peace of mind when making an estimation of the club’s locker room culture, only further punctuated by their Championship win in 2023. She says she spoke with Williams as well as recently-retired Gotham captain and close friend Ali Krieger.
“Getting some of those answers I think really helps me be like, ‘Alright, you guys seem to really love being here,” she says. “You seem to love the environment, you love the leadership, the culture, and those are things that really matter.”
With the culture already established, Dunn can now focus on a new challenge on the field. It’s well known in women’s soccer circles that she is one of the most versatile players in the sport, playing outside-back for the USWNT while shifting in multiple midfield and forward roles for her various clubs. Dunn says she hasn’t spoken in detail with Amorós about where she’ll fit in his system (though the recent departure of midfielder Kristie Mewis to West Ham might provide a hint.)
The midfielder thrives the most when able to get close to the opposition’s goal, whether in a box-to-box role in the midfield or as more of an attacking playmaker. But Dunn says early conversations with the coaching staff have focused on her fit in the squad as a person first, and carrying those principles into her role in the locker room and on the pitch.
“The most successful teams I’ve been on are the teams that I’m like, ‘Yeah, we are talented,’ but it really is about that mentality of — are you willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win?” she says. “Talent is great, but how well do you guys play together? How well do you guys read each other?”
With one of her biggest decisions yet now behind her, Dunn is looking forward to the chaos the NWSL will continue to bring in 2024. Two new expansion sides joining the league, there’s expected player turnover at numerous clubs, and Gotham now setting themselves up to push to turn a Championship into a dynasty. Now in her 10th year in the league, Dunn simply can’t wait to get started.
“Honestly, to be fair, every year so crazy and wild,” she says. “And every year I’m excited, because there’s going to be something wild and crazy every single step of the way.”