Crystal Dunn ready for her NWSL return
The North Carolina Courage play their home opener on March 24
Crystal Dunn played left back for the United States vs. England at the SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday. (Photo credit: Jeremy Reper/
Crystal Dunn played left back for the United States vs. England at the SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday. (Photo credit: Jeremy Reper/

Harrison, N.J. — One of the biggest moves in an offseason full of big moves came just two days before the 2018 NWSL College Draft when the North Carolina Courage acquired the rights to Crystal Dunn in a trade with the Washington Spirit.

Dunn, the 2015 NWSL MVP, would be returning to the the league this season. And she would be playing in Cary, North Carolina, where she had been so successful in her college career for the University of North Carolina. Among many other accolades, Dunn won the 2013 Hermann Trophy during her time with UNC, awarded to the nation’s best college player.

I’m really excited to just go back to a familiar place,” Dunn told reporters on Sunday at Red Bull Arena following the U.S. women’s national team’s 1-1 draw with France.

After a year spent playing in England with Chelsea FC, Dunn ended her time there a few months early, playing in her final game on February 24. Like her fellow U.S. teammates, she will be joining the NWSL preseason now that the SheBelieves Cup has concluded.

I just think personally it felt right,” Dunn said of the timing of her departure from Chelsea. “I think I wanted to start the NWSL from the beginning. I didn’t think I wanted to play catch up in a sense. And also, just going from playing English football to playing in the U.S., it’s going to take some transitioning. The style of play is definitely different so for me to jump into a season six, seven games in would’ve been kind of like a shock.”

The 2018 season will be Dunn’s fourth in the NWSL. Drafted with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2014 NWSL College Draft, Dunn went on to score 17 goals in 54 games for the Spirit.

When she takes the field in a Courage jersey for the first time, she’ll be lined up at forward alongside another former NWSL MVP in Lynn Williams, who won the award in 2016 with the Western New York Flash. Williams has 24 goals in 57 games, making them, on paper, one of the most formidable pairings in the league.

“It’s going to be great. Lynn works really hard and I think her and I will feed off each other really well,” Dunn said. “I think it’s nice playing with another forward that’s going to give their all every play and just compete.”

Though most of Dunn’s NWSL minutes will likely be spent on offense, her minutes for the USWNT at the SheBelieves Cup came at outside back. On Sunday, she was forced to drop back for the game’s final 15 minutes after Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short left injured. And then on Wednesday, she started and played 90 strong minutes at left back.

Outside back is a position she has played before for the United States, mostly at the U-20 level, though it has been awhile.

“I went into this game not prepared to play outside back and I didn’t have any conversation about it, but that’s just how the game goes,” she said on Sunday. “I just have to hone in on my abilities and whatever position I’m playing in, I just have to stay true to myself. Even if I’m playing outside back, I still have an attacking mentality, but also with the defensive mindset as well.”

The SheBelieves Cup and the start of the NWSL season are just the beginning of what will be a long year for the United States. After the NWSL season concludes, they’ll take part in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October, which serves as the qualifying tournament for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France next summer.

“These last 15 months are going to be intense. We’re all fighting for positions. We all want to solidify our role,” she said. “For me personally, I had a long year over in England, and it’s about adding things to my game. Hopefully a successful year in the NWSL and that will prepare for me qualifiers and on to the World Cup.”

The NWSL season kicks off on Saturday, March 24, when Dunn and the North Carolina Courage host Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime (3:30 p.m. ET | Buy tickets).

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