If there was one thing missing from the North Carolina Courage's inaugural season of rebirth in Cary – and the Courage didn't miss much, winning the regular-season title and falling just short in the NWSL title game – it was a legitimate, Olympic-level, World Cup veteran, television-buzz-worthy star.
And now it has one. The Courage on Tuesday traded for the NWSL rights to former North Carolina star Crystal Dunn, who has been playing for Chelsea in England and is currently in at the U.S. Women's National Team's training camp in California ahead of Sunday's friendly against Denmark.
“I'm really excited for a new journey,” Dunn said Tuesday. “As pro athletes, that's basically what our life is. You're in one place for a while and then boom, something like this happens. I'm excited. I'm such an East Coast girl, of course, and being in North Carolina is just a positive in itself.”
In the league where most of the USWNT players reside, the Courage didn't inherit that when the team moved south from upstate New York. There are three of last season's Courage players in camp now, but none have more than 15 caps. A fourth, Samantha Mewis, would be in camp as an established national-team regular were it not for an injury – but it was really her MVP-caliber play for the Courage this summer that helped turn her into a rising star and one of five finalists for the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year award.
Mewis has company now. An attacking outside player, the 25-year-old Dunn has 22 goals in 57 appearances for the U.S. national team but can play just about anywhere on the field – she was both the ACC offensive and defensive player of the year while at UNC and has been playing at wingback in Chelsea's 3-5-2 formation – and she'll team with Lynn Williams to give the Courage a one-two punch of attacking power.
Dunn knows Courage coach Paul Riley from Long Island, where she grew up, but she said their preliminary text conversations have been more about how excited he is to have her on the team than how he plans to use her. Some details of the acquisition remain unclear, like how she plans to transition from Chelsea.
The deal came at a high cost; to acquire Dunn's rights and an as-yet-unused international slot, the Courage traded NWSL rookie of the year Ashley Hatch and Taylor Smith – the latter one of those three Courage players with the national team – to the Washington Spirit, giving up two popular young players to obtain a legitimate star in the sport, one of the very few bright spots in the American early exit two summers ago in Brazil and one of the best players to come out of Chapel Hill in recent years.
For a team that came so close to a title a year ago, the Courage thinks Dunn is the kind of elite talent that can put it over the top.
“Just playing against (the Courage) two years ago, they're a very strong and unified team,” Dunn said. “They work really well together and seem like they care a lot about each other off the field. I've always viewed that stuff as being really important to a team. That's definitely the type of environment I want to step into and help them grow.”
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock