U.S. national team attacker Crystal Dunn is planning to return to the National Women's Soccer League after a year in England, but instead of adding her back onto its roster, the Washington Spirit on Tuesday traded the 2015 MVP's rights to the North Carolina Courage for national team defender Taylor Smith and 2017 rookie of the year Ashley Hatch.
The Spirit had retained Dunn's league rights after she signed with London club Chelsea last winter. With teenage star Mallory Pugh entering her second season and national team prospect Andi Sullivan pegged to arrive via the No. 1 draft pick Thursday, Washington apparently believes it could better rebound from last year's last-place finish by obtaining two proven starters in exchange for Dunn. The Courage also received an international roster slot in the trade.
Thirty minutes before announcing that blockbuster deal, the Spirit shipped Canadian national team forward Lindsay Agnew and the No. 6 overall pick to the Houston Dash for the No. 3 selection. Agnew, a 2017 second-round pick from Ohio State, made eight appearances (two starts) last year.
Smith, a 24-year-old right back from UCLA, has earned seven U.S. caps (four starts) since debuting in July and seems on course to earn a spot on the 2019 Women's World Cup squad. She started two years for the NWSL's 2016 champions and 2017 finalists. Before rising to the senior national team, Smith was a regular with the under-17, U-20 and U-23 squads.
"Taylor has developed into one of the best right backs in the NWSL," said Jim Gabarra, the Spirit's head coach and general manager. "She has performed very well both with the national team and the Courage, and has been part of winning teams her entire career. She will be a difference-maker for us."
Hatch, a 22-year-old forward, scored seven goals in 24 matches last year. While still at Brigham Young, she debuted for the U.S. senior team in October 2016 but hasn't played internationally since.
Dunn, 25, was the Spirit's first overall pick in the 2014 draft and, a year later, led the league in scoring (15 goals in 21 matches) while solidifying her place on the national team. In 2016, while shuttling between the Spirit and the Olympic-bound U.S. squad, she helped Washington reach the NWSL final for the first time.
Amid the Spirit's off-field turmoil, however, she decided to venture abroad and became one of the few American women to sign a multiyear deal overseas. (Several have had short-term stints.) Her contract, though, included options to return early, and with the national team turning attention in 2018 to two high-caliber mini-tournaments and World Cup qualifying, she apparently felt it necessary to play in the NWSL again this season.
In all competitions over two seasons at Chelsea, Dunn made 20 appearances (12 starts) and scored five goals. Chelsea won the spring championship last year.
"I'm really excited to be back in an area that means so much to me," said Dunn, who starred at the University of North Carolina. "I am just excited to get started and meet my new teammates."
Dunn, Smith and Sullivan are currently at U.S. training camp in Carson, California, ahead of Sunday's friendly against Denmark in San Diego. Dunn has scored 22 goals in 57 international matches. Last year, she posted four goals in 12 appearances.
The trade comes two days before the Spirit are almost certain to draft Sullivan with the No. 1 overall pick. Earlier this month, the central midfielder from Lorton, Virginia (South County High School, McLean Youth Soccer) won the Hermann Trophy as college soccer's best player after guiding Stanford to its second national championship. She has played seven times for the national team and, like Smith and Pugh, appears very much in U.S. Coach Jill Ellis' long-term plans.
Absent for weeks from the draft eligibility list, Sullivan was expected to sign a national team contract this week and become eligible for selection.