As Washington Spirit head coach and general manager, Jim Gabarra, prepares for the National Women’s Soccer League entry draft next week, he will have some big spots to fill on his team. It was announced today that another star member of the Washington Spirit team which made it to the NWSL Championship game will not be returning to the squad in 2017. Superstar Crystal Dunn will not return to the Spirit as she has signed with Chelsea Ladies FC.
The London-based Chelsea Ladies FC announced the signing today via the team’s Twitter account, with a photo of Dunn holding a Chelsea “Blues” jersey.
The Spirit drafted Dunn with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft. The Rockville Centre, NY native had a banner 2015 season scoring 15 goals for the Spirit and was awarded NWSL Golden Boot, NWSL MVP, Washington Spirit Golden Boot, and Washington Spirit MVP. She was also NWSL Player of the Week a record six times and NWSL Player of the Month for August. Dunn was named to 2015 NWSL Best XI and averaged 0.75 goals per team game, a new NWSL record. In 2016, Dunn scored four goals, including both Spirit goals in the NWSL Championship, and had a career-high five assists.
“Crystal is hands-down one of the best young players to have come through in the United States in recent years,” wrote Emma Hayes, the manager of Chelsea Ladies FC on Twitter.
Dunn is the fourth, and perhaps biggest name to leave the Spirit since the team lost the NWSL Championship game in devastating fashion in October. In November, the team traded captain and USWNT standout Ali Krieger to Orlando, after she clashed with Gabarra. Shortly after that, the team traded starting midfielder, and fan favorite Christine Nairn to the Seattle Reign for a player and three draft picks. The Spirit also traded young defender Megan Oyster to the Boston Breakers in a three-player deal that also included the No.1 spot in the NWSL’s distribution ranking order, which is the league’s guide for placing USWNT and Canadian Women’s National Team players not already assigned to an NWSL Team.
There have been widespread reports of player discontent with club ownership. However, in an interview with the Washington Post, Dunn denied that discontent was an impetus to her exit.
“On behalf of the entire Spirit organization and our fans, I want to thank Crystal for her years of commitment and outstanding performance,” said general manager and head coach Jim Gabarra. “Of course it hurts to lose such a talented player, but this is professional sports, and every time there’s a roster spot open it creates opportunities for others.”
The forward was a key member of the Under-20 team that won the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan in 2012, where she had three assists. Dunn made her debut for the senior U.S. National Team in 2013 and scored her first career international goal on September 17, 2015. Dunn was a member of the 2016 United States Olympic team, scoring a goal against Colombia in a group stage match. The 24-year-old was also nominated for U.S. Soccer’s Female Player of the Year for 2016.
In another blow since the end of the season, in late November, Washington Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys tore her right ACL while playing on loan the Newcastle Jets of the Australian women’s league. Wys made 14 starts for the Spirit this year after taking the starting job from Canadian international Stephanie Labbe, when Labbe left for the Olympics. Wys recorded 68 saves and two shutouts for the Spirit en route to the NWSL Championship game.
This is the third ACL tear from a Spirit player. Rookie forward Cali Farquharson tore her ACL in early September against the Seattle Reign. In the NWSL Final, second-year left back Caprice Dydasco tore her ACL. The expected recovery for a typical ACL tear is 6-9 months.
The status of midfielder Diana Matheson and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, Olympic bronze medalists with Canada last summer, is unclear. Matheson, 32, has been with the team since 2013. Labbe lost the starting job the second half of the season. However, Wys’ ACL tear should keep her top of mind with Spirit coaches.
In December the Spirit announced that the club had signed midfielder Havana Solaun to a new contract for the 2017 NWSL season. Per team and league policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Spirit acquired the rights to Solaun in a November trade which saw the rights to Nairn and Madalyn Schiffel go to Seattle Reign FC. In addition to Solaun’s rights, the Spirit picked up the Nos. 3 and 36 overall picks in the 2017 NWSL College Draft and the Reign’s second round pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. The Spirit has since used the No. Three overall pick as part of a trade to bring Kristie Mewis and Kassey Kallman to the Spirit from the Boston Breakers.
After being drafted by the Reign in 2015, Solaun missed her entire rookie season due to a severely broken ankle. In her second “rookie” season in 2016, the former University of Florida Gator played in six matches for the Reign, including three starts. She scored the game-winner for the Reign on June 12, 2016, against the Houston Dash.
The Spirit have announced that they have resigned midfielder Tori Huster, forward Francisca “Franny” Ordega, and defender Whitney Church.
Huster, 27, an original Spirit member, started 19 regular season matches in 2016 and played in both postseason matches. She played the most minutes in 2016 of any player on the team, helping to lead the squad to its first-ever appearance in the NWSL Championship. The fan favorite also contributed a goal and an assist, both against Sky Blue FC.
“Tori was an integral part of our midfield during our historically successful season in 2016,” said Gabarra. “It was rewarding for us all to see her consistently high level of play up through the NWSL Championship match. We’re very happy she signed a new contract and look forward to continuing to work together.”