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Crystal Dunn, native New Yorker and World Cup champion, is right at home with Gotham FC

For Crystal Dunn, the choice was crystal clear.

Signing a multi-year contract with Gotham FC this offseason offered the decorated World Cup champion an opportunity to compete for her fourth National Women’s Soccer League title.

Just as importantly, it gave her a chance to come back home.

Dunn, 31, was born in New Hyde Park on Long Island and grew up in nearby Rockville Centre, where she captained the South Side High School soccer team and won state championships in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Those titles were just the start for a player who has won nearly everywhere she’s gone since. Now entering her 10th NWSL season, Dunn boasts an MVP trophy she earned in 2015 with the Washington Spirit; back-to-back championships with the North Carolina Courage in 2018 and 2019; and an additional title with the Portland Thorns in 2022.

Dunn was also part of the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the World Cup in 2019, appearing in six games. She competed as well in the 2023 World Cup and in two Olympics.

Through it all, Dunn remained true to New York.

“When people see New York, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fame, the access to all these high-stage, high-spotlight moments,” Dunn said Friday following an introductory press conference at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. “But to me, being a New Yorker was always about the grind. It was about the ailments that were thrown your way that you had to battle through and face. That’s my mentality as a player.”

Dunn’s latest challenge is suiting up for a retooled Gotham club that enters the 2024 season with sky-high expectations. Fresh off the franchise’s first-ever NWSL championship in November, Gotham added four staples of the USWNT in Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson.

The big-name quartet joins a team already featuring USWNT members including Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara, who were also part of the 2023 World Cup roster.

All of that star power on one club invited mentions of a possible “superteam.” Dunn, who spent the past three seasons with Portland, is aware of that buzz.

“All this hype about us coming in is amazing, but I also think we’ve got pressure on us, which is an incredible feeling,” Dunn said. “Pressure creates diamonds, and I think you’ve got to embrace it. You can’t shy away from it, but it all starts with … getting to work.”

The 5-1 Dunn, whose deal runs through 2026, brings rare versatility to Gotham. A goal-scoring midfielder and forward by trade, Dunn has primarily played as a defender with the USWNT.

Her new coach, Gotham’s Juan Carlos Amoros, describes Dunn as “very special on and off the ball.”

“She’s exciting,” Amoros said Friday. “She’s very versatile as well, can play different positions, and she’s also a leader.”

She’s also a mother, having welcomed her first child in 2022. The chance to raise her son in her native New York proved to be a massive draw for Dunn, who acknowledges it felt “amazing” to be wanted by her hometown team.

Gotham’s pursuit of Dunn played out separately from those of Lavelle, Sonnett and Davidson, though all four entered free agency looking for the same things, general manager Yael Averbuch said Friday.

“We always started the conversation with asking them what they’re looking for in the next phase of their career,” said Averbuch, a former player who, like Dunn, hails from Long Island. “Every single person who we brought to the club said something similar. They said, ‘I want to win. I want to get better, I don’t feel like I’ve met my potential and I want to be around other people that share that mindset.’ The second they said any version of that, I felt pretty confident. I knew they should choose Gotham.”

Dunn’s addition to Gotham represents a testament to the organization’s turnaround in recent years.

Before 2023, the club endured losing seasons in six of the past seven years, including in 2022, when it finished in last place at 4-1-17. Before moving in 2020 to the spacious Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Gotham played its home games at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field, which seats only 5,000 people on a single grandstand.

“People need to realize the New York area is a tough market,” Dunn said. “There’s not a lot of space. There’s not always an easy stadium to have and to build on. From afar, it always looked like there was passion behind growing this club in this area, but there were always challenges. I think the last couple of years, getting so many people in this organization to have that vision and have that guideline, has been able to put that team on the map and make it so much more accessible for people to be able to come and see these games.”

Attracting larger crowds to Red Bull Arena is a priority for Dunn, who urged her fellow New Yorkers — including those on Long Island — to show up for her new club. Gotham averaged around 6,300 fans at home games last season. Dunn’s previous team averaged about 19,000 fans at its games in Portland.

Gotham is set to host the league’s season opener on March 15 against San Diego Wave FC in the NWSL Challenge Cup.

With Friday’s team introduction behind her, Dunn is eager to get going.

“I’ve been highly successful in my career, but every year I’ve got to upgrade the résumé,” Dunn said. “It’s not about what I did five years ago, even last season. It’s about what I’m presently here to do and take on, and I think that’s really important that people hear that from me, as somebody that is a leader, as somebody that has achieved a lot.

“If I’m not showing up … and competing to fight to be the best player out there, how can I demand that from my teammates?” she continued. “I think that’s really something that New York has instilled in me, that you’ve got to work for everything.”