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Crystal Dunn signs with Chelsea

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Dunn is the latest high-profile American to sign with a European team.

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-Romania at USA Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After months of speculation, Crystal Dunn has announced she is signing with Chelsea in the FA Women’s Super League on a contract that runs to 2018. Other terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Early rumors were that Dunn would follow her USWNT teammate Alex Morgan to France, probably to either Lyon or Paris Saint-Germain. Instead, Dunn swerved to the FAWSL and Emma Hayes’ Chelsea side.

“I have only been to London once before but there is something that grabbed me about Chelsea. The whole family culture - the unity, the morale - is making it feel just like home,” Dunn said via team press release.

This move comes in the wake of clashes with Dunn’s former team owner at the Washington Spirit. Though the Spirit made it all the way to the 2016 NWSL final, there was turmoil behind the scenes. Much of the conflict was crystallized in differences over team owner Bill Lynch’s actions around playing the national anthem early before a game against the visiting Seattle Reign so that Megan Rapinoe could not kneel in protest. An anonymous source told Steven Goff at the Washington Post that players “went to the championship, and yet were so unhappy.”

There’s also the matter of the WNT’s ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations with US Soccer. The team did not reach a new agreement with USSF over a new CBA, while the old one expired at the end of 2016. At the moment the terms of the old CBA are acting as a placeholder while negotiations continue. Players may see this as an opportune time to seek steady paychecks elsewhere. Combined with the recent signing of top 2017 draft prospect Ashley Lawrence to PSG, there are early warning signs that NWSL needs to shore up its reputation as a top destination for big talent. At the same time, the league can’t compete with the kind of paychecks PSG and Lyon can offer, nor should it attempt to suddenly break free of its cautious salary cap restraints.

There are a multitude of factors here that make Crystal Dunn leaving not that alarming on its own. It’s important to note the context of her departure from the Spirit. But if more big names and draft prospects also start heading to other leagues, it’s a warning sign that NWSL’s steady but slow growth may need to find a way to accelerate.