Monday, February 26, 2024
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NWSL Vibe Check: Orlando Pride could offer free agent Crystal Dunn massive $400,000 per year deal

Welcome to the NWSL Vibe Check. Last week we said farewell to the 2023 NWSL Championship and hello to the NWSL offseason. The NWSL Expansion draft is rapidly approaching, and new franchises Bay FC and Utah Royals FC are already making moves. So what’s the current temperature on the free agency period? Here’s what I’ve heard and what I think about it, unfiltered. But, before all that, the question of the NWSL free agency period is, “Where will Crystal Dunn land?”

So let’s hop to it with the latest NWSL Vibe Check.

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Where will Crystal Dunn sign?

All signs point to the East Coast. However, not every team along the coast will have a shot at signing her (sorry North Carolina). While fans eagerly follow social media cues for any sign of a new location for the player, there’s always the possibility that looks can sometimes be deceiving. So where are some possible landing spots for the three-time NWSL Champion and 2019 World Cup winner? 

Here’s who has tossed their hats into the Dunn free agency ring:

  • NJ/NY Gotham FC
  • Washington Spirit
  • Orlando Pride

CBS Sports understands that Orlando is prepared to make a big offer for Dunn, with a deal that could exceed $400,000. Orlando have been collecting allocation money since last offseason, with prior intentions to land Debinha last year, but sources say that this offseason they turned their attention toward Dunn.

Orlando will have steep competition to acquire her services though. They could make a major offer for Dunn, but it’s unclear if the 31-year-old player will commit to the teams’ current rebuild. For some players, it might not always be a money talks scenario when it comes to free agent contracts. Despite having the money to sign a big player, the club is still in the midst of a rebuilding phase, taking steps to build their project, and it could be something more experienced players are less intrigued to be a part of.

Alternatively Gotham seems like a promising and obvious choice for a player who might want to win now. Dunn is a Long Island native, and Gotham’s recent title win means they’ve gone from league table cellar dwellers to contenders, and now to NWSL Champions. It’s a good line for any club’s pitch to potential free agents. That just means other clubs may bulk up their offers as they lay out their plans to try and lure the marquee midfielder onto their roster.  

The potential Pride offer also makes Washington Spirit an interesting situation as Dunn previously played with the club before leaving after a 2016 NWSL Championship appearance. The Spirit are a completely different club since 2016, with new ownership, playing in Audi Field, and just two years removed from an NWSL Championship. The club has had constant coaching turnover the last few seasons and currently has no head coach at this time which might make the pitch harder. 

Players will rightfully make the move that is best for them and their families. In Dunn’s case, she may look for her next club to be her final team. The next cycle includes an Olympics and then a 2027 World Cup. Does she want her next contract to be her last? If so, which market does she want to call home is the question some front office offers may have to negotiate?

Will there be major free agency signings before the Expansion Draft?

To some degree, the answer to that question depends on your definition of big, but unless you’re an expansion side (Utah Royals FC and Bay FC have already made signings), the outlook seems unlikely.

There have been plenty of conversations, negotiating, and general chatter for multiple free agents during this time. Last week, I mentioned the marquee names floating between clubs during this free agency period. However, with the timeline of the transaction window, which will pause for the expansion draft, combined with the recent release of the rules and processes for the upcoming expansion draft, it may benefit some teams to hold off on any major signings until after the expansion event.

During OL Reign’s end-of-the-year press conference, the club’s General Manager Lesle Gallimore revealed that the team is in daily discussions with Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle, and the organization feels that the conversations are positive. Head coach Laura Harvey also provided the perspective that players should enjoy and experience this free agency period, as this is only the second offseason it’s existed.

Harvey’s not wrong and with free agents unable to get selected during the expansion draft, look for major signings to happen after the event. 

Will OL Reign finally get sold soon?

The most obvious answer is yes. After NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman previously detailed the deadline for existing franchises navigating ownership sales to complete those transactions by the end of the calendar year. OL Reign is currently owned by OL Groupe, and the recent acquisition of Olympique Lyon properties by American John Textor featured an offloading of the women’s team Olympique Lyon Femenin.

Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang has taken over as majority owner, but a conflict arose with OL Groupe’s stake in the Seattle-based Reign. No two teams in the same league can be owned by the same person, and the last six months have been an ongoing process of negotiations with 28 different offers according to reporting out of France’s L’Equipe

The news details are that OL Groupe is now in exclusive negotiations with the Carlyle Group, owners of the MLS franchise Seattle Sounders. The sale is expected to bring in just over $53 million after hearings with the DNCG (Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion) – the financial organization responsible for monitoring the accounts of pro football clubs in France.

Portland Thorns FC are also on deadline for a franchise sale. Owner Merritt Paulson previously put the team up for sale after former head coach Paul Riley and multiple executives were implicated in numerous investigations tied to abuse in women’s professional soccer. Sportico recently reported that NBA Sacramento Kings owners, The Bhathal family, are interested in the club but there has been no official comment by the Thorns or the legal team leading the sale.

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