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Crystal Dunn signs multi-year deal with Gotham FC

Crystal Dunn is a World Cup champion and Olympic bronze medalist with the USWNT (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

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.)

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Dunn most recently won an NWSL Shield and a Championship title with the Portland Thorns (Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports)

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.”

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Dunn will be reunited with former North Carolina and current USWNT teammate Lynn Williams at Gotham (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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.”

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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