BRAD SMITH/ISI PHOTOS

In another blockbuster signing for the FA Women’s Super League, North Carolina Courage and U.S. Women’s National Team center back Abby Dahlkemper has inked a 2.5-year contract with Manchester City, as first reported by Meg Linehan of the Athletic. Dahlkemper joins USWNT teammates Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle in the move across the pond, in what is another stellar addition to City’s championship-caliber squad.

Dahlkemper is an elite talent in the prime of her career.  She’s appeared in 62 matches for the USWNT, notching three assists and one World Cup trophy for her country. During the 2019 World Cup, she was the only player aside from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to start every match of the tournament.

In four seasons with the North Carolina Courage, Dahlkemper has won three NWSL Shields, two NWSL Championships, was named the NWSL Defender of the Year in 2017, and thrice made the NWSL Best XI, in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Prior to the franchise’s move to North Carolina, Dahlkemper also won a NWSL Championship with the Western New York Flash as well as a NCAA Championship and the Honda Sports Award during her time at UCLA.

One look at Dahlkemper’s stats makes clear her outstanding consistency at center back. During the NWSL’s recent Fall Series, Dahlkemper started all four matches for the Courage, burying a penalty against the Houston Dash in the first match of the series. More impressive, however, were Dahlkemper’s passing abilities: in the defensive third, she maintained a 92% passing accuracy to go along with her 60.3% accuracy in the attacking third. 149 of her 193 attempted passes were successful, equating to a 77.2% passing success rate through 360 minutes of play.

During the Challenge Cup last spring, Dahlkemper had a 100% success rate in tackles, a 60% success rate in duels, and a 57.1% success rate in aerial duels. She also logged 15 clearances, three blocks, and two interceptions, while simultaneously maintaining an 85.1% passing success rate. That level of consistency and control will allow Dahlkemper to immediately slide into her role as a security blanket in City’s defensive third.

Needless to say, City’s gain is the Courage’s loss, especially when coupled with North Carolina’s recent trade of fellow USWNT superstar Crystal Dunn to the Portland Thorns. Dahlkemper’s move is also another blow to the NWSL as a whole in its ongoing battle with the European leagues for the best soccer talent in the world.

When Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Mewis and Lavelle all decamped to the FAWSL in the fall, fans were forced to call into question whether the NWSL was doing enough to retain its biggest stars. Dahlkemper’s signing, along with Catarina Macario’s decision to forgo the 2021 NWSL draft in order to sign with Lyon, will only amplify the scrutiny.

While there’s much to be excited about in the NWSL’s future, including three new expansion teams in Louisville, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, the ongoing talent leak of household names is becoming a serious concern.

Hard not to think the #NWSL is on the ropes. Either that or they need a new marketing strategy so #USWNT players going to #WSL doesn\u2019t affect their shine. Hope I\u2019m wrong! https://t.co/TpDl2TKqIo

— Annie O'Carroll (@OcarrollAnnie) January 14, 2021

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When Heath, Press, and Alex Morgan jumped to England, the narrative was that these veteran national team players were simply looking to get games in ahead of next summer’s Olympics. (Both Heath and Press’ contracts with Manchester United expire at the end of the 2020/2021 season, and Morgan has already returned to the Orlando Pride after playing for Tottenham in the fall.)

But with a younger generation signing long-term deals with European clubs, it’s hard not wonder if this is the beginning of a trend, and if in the future, we’ll continue to see more American players abandon the NWSL for better opportunities in Europe.

Whether the reasoning for these signings is to obtain better preparation for the Olympics, concern over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, or simply better compensation, the loss of this many high-profile players is becoming a critical issue, especially as the NWSL looks poised to rapidly expand its national profile in the coming years.

We’re still a few signings away from full-on panic mode, and in the meantime, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of seeing Dahlkemper, Mewis and Lavelle on one field together. Mewis in particular has thrived for City, who currently sit at 4th in the table. The club is well within the title hunt, and a talent like Dahlkemper could easily take them to the next level, whether that’s this season or in the two to follow.