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The Week In Women’s Football: Crystal Dunn joins Chelsea; Houston Dash sign pair of internationals

This week we discuss the implications of U.S. International forward Crystal Dunn leaving NWSL to join Chelsea Ladies in the Super League. We also review two new international signings by the Houston Dash, some news on the U.S. National Team Players Union front and Peter Gerhardsson's Appointment to succeed Pia Sundhage as Sweden's Head Coach after this summer's Euros.

Crystal Dunn Transfers to Chelsea

Earlier today, the Washington Spirit announced that U.S. international forward Crystal Dunn is leaving the NWSL to play for Chelsea Ladies next year. Dunn was the number one pick by the Spirit in the 2014 College Draft and was the league's 2015 Player of the Year after scoring 15 goals. She just missed making the 2015 Women's World Cup team but has been a pillar for the national side ever since, scoring against Colombia in a Rio Olympic Group game last summer. Dunn also won an Under-20 FIFA World Cup for the U.S. in 2012 in Japan.

Dunn is the second U.S. National Team star to leave the U.S. Soccer-run league for Europe recently, joining forward Alex Morgan, who joined Lyon last month. Morgan is on a loan deal while Dunn's move is permanent. This is a tremendous signing by Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, one of the most astute coaches in the business and a former professional coach in the States (2009 and 2010 Chicago Red Stars in WPS).

Dunn's move has raised some questions Stateside however: first of all, what is driving the Washington Spirit's post league final clear-out of players; second, are Morgan's and Dunn's move a sign that more American internationals planning to move to Europe as top international players join NWSL; and three, should this be perceived as a spurning of the NWSL or a quest to play in Europe?

The Washington Spirit has seen wholesale changes from their roster that lost the 2016 NWSL Final to the Western New York Flash on penalty kicks. International defender Ali Krieger was a founding player with the Spirit in 2013 but recently was traded to the Orlando Pride. Argentinian forward Estefania Banini signed with Valencia of Spain. Christine Narin—who spends her off-seasons with Melbourne Victory— was traded to Seattle while Megan Oyster—who is currently in her second season in Australia with Newcastle Jets—was shipped to Boston Breakers. One source reported to the Washington Post that the players “went to the championship, but were so unhappy." The Spirit organization felt forced to issue the following unique press release to stem fan concerns about the seemingly endless “Fire Sale" that was taking place a few months ago.

Dear Spirit Fans,

In light of the response to our recent trades here at the Spirit over the past two weeks, I feel it's important to share some reasoning and information with our fans. While I can't share everything, we understand and value the emotional connection our fans have with our players and club, so I'll share as much as I can, in the hope you can feel the same level of optimism I have for our future.

The Spirit certainly had a historic and successful season in 2016, my first at the club. The entire club and our fans collectively achieved great things through togetherness, hard work, and commitment at every level. It was especially rewarding and something I'll never forget. I hope we can all look back a year ago and see the result of the changes made then as well as acknowledge the job done by new and returning staff and players.

That said, my role as general manager is to continue to evolve and improve the club and the roster. In doing so, there are numerous factors and decisions to be made, often based on dozens of moving parts involving multiple points of interest. In most every case, the public will never see or know all of the reasons, so it's very understandable that official public releases of information can cause strong emotions.

As you know, 2016 was my first season with the Spirit, as it was for Denise Reddy as my assistant coach. We both came into a new situation with solid returning core of very talented staff and players. This was enhanced with a good draft class and successful new signings, and together we grew and learned. Reaching the NWSL Championship match in Houston was great, however it's still my job to look forward and continue to put things in place that give the club the best chance to keep reaching for our goals. As is the case with every team in pro sports changes must be made because no matter how successful a season, things can always be better.

Before making any changes, I evaluate each and every aspect of the club, taking into consideration input from my staff, talking to players, and then create a plan to improve and move forward. Just as was the case a year ago, the plan for the 2017 roster requires changes and improvements. These changes are not taken lightly, and are always difficult. Not everyone completely agrees with these changes as they happen, sometimes even including the owner. But I assure you that the only factors ever used in making these decisions are about how to put the best team on the field every day. I would never make any player trades based on any other factors, and ask for our fans' consideration as we go through the changes that all NWSL teams go through this time of year.

Thanks for your continued support,

- Jim Gabarra

Dunn has said about her move to England: “My decision is based on trying a new environment. I absolutely loved the Spirit. It was a hard decision, but it's the right time for me….I would be lying if Kriegs [Krieger] leaving and Christine Nairn leaving isn't something I thought about, but my decision to leave was far beyond the different changes happening with the Spirit."

Jim Gabarra was hired last season after three less than stellar seasons at Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. Gabarra has been a fixture with Washington D.C. women's soccer teams dating back to the WUSA teams of Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, but he is not exactly “Mr. Congeniality" when it comes to dealing with players and others. This writer thought that Randy Waldrum of Houston had the most pressure to keep his job entering the 2017 season, going three seasons without a playoff berth even with Carli Lloyd in his lineup. Maybe Gabarra, despite making the finals last season, will be the first coach fired in 2017 if the Spirit start slowly. Next week's draft is crucial for him to find a forward that can develop quickly and step into the void left by Dunn and Banini's departures.

In terms of Dunn's and Morgan's move to Europe starting a trend among top American players, it's too early to tell but a lot of American players that I interview talk very highly of the UEFA Champions League and view it as the top club competition in the world, while still acknowledging that NWSL is the best professional league. All of the 2015 Women's World Cup Winners were with NWSL sides, but that was for a North American-hosted tournament. In 2019, France is the site for the Women's World Cup so it is natural for some top North America international players to look to play in France or elsewhere in Europe. Heather O'Reilly, who won the 2015 NWSL Championship with FC Kansas City and recently retired from the national team, has been rumored to be exploring England's Super League. Hope Solo—fired by U.S. Soccer after the Rio Olympics—has been trolling for a team in Europe but no move has been announced yet. I think more Americans will go to Europe for a variety of reasons, including the allure of the Champions League, to live in a different country and earn more than they could stateside. I don't think these moves abroad should be viewed as a repudiation of NWSL. If we see 15-20 national team players move abroad, then that is a different issue. Dunn and Morgan, like Lindsey Horan did when she turned down a scholarship to the University of North Carolina to play for Paris St. Germain just out of high school, are trailblazers. The question is how many will follow them.

Dash sign two internationals

Houston Dash of the NWSL has signed South African National Women's Team Captain and defender Janine Van Wyk for the 2017 season as well as Brazilian defender Bruna Benites. Van Wyk was particularly impressive on a two game tour versus the U.S. National Team last year and during the Rio Olympics. She has played club ball in the Netherlands. Benites has played her entire career in Brazil before joining Avaldsnes IL in Norway in 2016.As the Dash enter their fourth season still looking for a playoff spot under Randy Waldrum, now not distracted by also coaching Trinidad and Tobago's National Team, it will be interesting to see if these signings perform well. Waldrum has had some real clangors with international signings, including Austrian striker Nina Burger (4 goals in 17 matches), Canadian midfielder Kaylyn Kyle (0 goals in 19 games), English midfielder Rachel Axon (1 goal in 15 games)—who played at Oregon State and now plays in Norway with Kolbotn—and a number of Brazilians including 2015 World Cup defender midfielder Rafaelle Souza (0 goals in 16 matches), 2015 World Cup midfielder and 2010 and 2012 U-17 World Cup team member Andressa (1 goal in 22 games), Brazilian 2014 U-20 World Cup team defender Camilla (0 goals in 12 games), and international defender Poliana (1 goal in 15 games).

A few successes for the Dash were Mexican American defender Arianna Romero (who left NWSL to play in Iceland and is now in Australia) and English international forward Rachel Daley (4 goals 4 assists in 16 games), who will be back in 2017. Waldrum seems obsessed with signing international defenders—while important, he needs additional scoring talent for Carli Lloyd and Kealia Ohia, who was capped by the U.S. national team last season after scoring 11 goals, tied with Western New York Flash's Lynn Williams for the league lead.

U.S. Women's National Team Players Union Fire Their Executive Director

The U.S Women's National Team Players Union has dispatched their boss Executive Director Rich Nichols, just four days before 2017 and the expiration of the current labor agreement with US Soccer. Nichols was seen as more confrontational than original union boss John Langel—which was hard to imagine, really—and the move seems to take away the threat of an imminent players' strike. Nichols had threatened last year at this time that the team could strike in 2016, targeting the Rio Olympics, stating that the CBA had expired at the end of 2015. U.S. Soccer won a decision in court that the CBA was current until Dec 31 2016, under the terms of their previous collective bargaining agreement dating to 2005. Unless the players give a 60 day notice, which they have not yet, the previous agreement applies. It will be interesting in the next agreement if the players try to have a strike option—something that U.S. Soccer obviously does not and if pay disparity versus the US Men's Team on bonuses and salaries is reduced, about which players have filed a separate equal rights complaint.

Gerhardsson to replace Sundhage in Sweden after the Euros

Sweden's announced late last year that Peter Gerhardsson will replace Pia Sundhage as head coach of the Sweden's Women's National Team after the Euros this summer. Gerhardsson has been coaching BK Hacken (Gothenburg) men's team for the past ten years. Hacken is a small club but well known as the annual host of the Gothia Cup, an international youth tournament of global acclaim, He played at Hammarby for ten years, totaling 152 games in Sweden's top league. His experience coaching women's soccer was 20 years ago when he was on the 1996 Women's Olympic Team coaching staff for Sweden, a scout during the European Champions for women in 1997 and a coach at Balinge in the Damallsvenskan in 1997. Since then he has coached men exclusively, including time with Sweden's U-17 and U-21 sides. He said on local television that his wife knows more about women's soccer today—a joke, we hope. Gerhardsson said: “This job was too good to pass up. It is a challenge I have not tested out before, but I am looking forward towards it." Gerhardsson may surprise us, but he still seems a curious choice—and a rather low key one at that—to replace Sundhage, so well-known and respected in Sweden, the United States and elsewhere.

There is some good news for Gerhardsson; Pia Sundhage picked Djurgarden's Katrin Schmidt for her squad to play England and Norway in January. Schmidt had recently become a Swedish citizen and played four years at Florida State and with Vancouver Whitecaps in the W-League before stints with Tyreso, Rosengard, Hammarby before joining Djurgarden for the 2016 season. Schmidt could be a standard for the side for years to come.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey

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