PHILADELPHIA — Cheryl Bailey stood in front of the lectern and said the words NWSL fans had been expecting for weeks. “With the first pick in the 2014 NWSL Draft, the Washington Spirit select Crystal Dunn from the University of North Carolina.”
Dunn tore up the left flanks of many college soccer fields over the last four years at North Carolina and earned herself a semi-regular spot on the senior national team in 2013. For more than a year no name other than Dunn’s has been mentioned for the top pick in Friday’s draft. For her part, Dunn said she had hoped for it, but never specifically contemplated it.
“Everyone wants to be that top player in people’s eyes,” the 21-year-old native of New Hyde Park on Long Island said just minutes after being drafted. “It’s a great feeling. I didn’t really know 100 percent. You never really do especially with all the trades going on. It definitely is an honor. I’m truly honored.”
Mark Parsons, Dunn’s new coach with the Spirit, left no trace of doubt about whether anyone else was ever considered.
“After a couple of defeats after I came in it was clear we were in the position we were in and as soon as we knew, picking up Crystal was obviously a priority,” said Parsons, who took over the Spirit at midseason in 2013. “There was no way we would even consider changing that for any current NWSL player in the league, any U.S. allocated player. What she brings as a player we all know. The stuff that I’m going to get to know is what she brings in regard to her character, her personality, her desire, and her passion. What Anson (Dorrance, Dunn’s coach at North Carolina) has told us about and her teammates have told us about makes this potentially one of the biggest picks in a long time.”
The Spirit won only three times in 22 games last season so there was clearly work to do in order to contend. The club has already added Danesha Adams, Yael Averbuch, Renae Cuellar, Christine Nairn, plus discovery player Jodie Taylor. Later on draft day they picked up Tiffany Weimer in a trade with the Thorns. Dunn is expected to play on the left side of the pitch at Maryland SoccerPlex—“I’m a flank player,” she said—but whether that turns out to be as a fullback or midfielder remains to be seen.
“It has to be where she can make the most influence on the game because she has the ability to change games,” Parsons said. “We’ll have to figure that out in pre-season. We’ve got a lot of players that can play in different positions. We know that the opposition are going to be keeping an eye on her and wanting to shut her down so wherever tactically gives us the advantage to free her up and gives her an opportunity to do what she’s best at.”
Despite the poor record in 2013 Parsons is thinking big things for the Spirit in 2014 and believes they began to play the proper style near the end of last season.
“The goal against Sky Blue in our last game,” Parsons answered about what style he wants to see. “It was 15 or 16 passes and 40-50 seconds of possession in building up to it and then a good finish. That’s the type of football that we spent six weeks working on. We never had a goal from it but we had flashes of it. We want to make the other teams work really hard. It’s a hot summer so we don’t want the other teams to have the ball more than us. We want them to work harder.”
Later in the draft the Spirit grabbed Molly Menchel (No. 26) and Shasta Fisher (No. 29) and then traded the No. 31 pick for Weimer.
“To be honest we are miles ahead of where we thought we would be. We never thought that a couple of the last players we brought in would be available and the fact they were is exciting and important.”
Dunn still has to finish at North Carolina and has had stints with the national team mixed in. Now she will be heading to Washington where preseason begins in less than two months.
“Just one day at a time,” she said. “It’s very stressful to think about too many things. If I’m training with the national team I’m focused with the national team. Now I’m going to be training with DC, I’m going to be focusing on that team. Just to not get overwhelmed is my key right now.”
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