For the first time in years, Crystal Dunn will try to fill the net for a Paul Riley-coached team. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Crystal Dunn, who played for Paul Riley as a youth player back in the day, will now have an opportunity to perform for him as a pro.

The North Carolina Courage Tuesday acquired the rights to U.S. international striker Crystal Dunn and an international player spot from the Washington Spirit for Taylor Smith and Ashley Hatch.

Dunn, once a standout at nearby University of North Carolina, played for Riley on the Albertson Fury on Long Island.

“Bringing Crystal back to NC has always been a goal of the franchise, and it’s incredible to see it come to fruition,” said Riley, the Courage coach.

“She is an outstanding player with bags of speed, desire and game changing ability. It’s a massive year ahead for Crystal, and we hope we can be a big part of her continued development both in the NWSL and on the international stage. She is eager to get started, meet her new team and add to our young, talented squad.”

Selected as the first overall pick in the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft by the Spirit, the Rockville Centre, N.Y. native made 22 appearances in her rookie season. In 2015, Dunn was not selected to the U.S. squad for the Women’s World Cup, but made the rest of the league pay. She became the youngest player in the league to earn the Golden Boot (15 goals) and MVP honors in the same season at 23.

If Riley needed to be reminded about how lethal Dunn can be, he can only look back at the NWSL final. She tallied twice for Washington in a shootout loss to the Western New York Flash (now the Courage). Last year Dunn played with Chelsea in the English FA Women’s Super League 1, scoring three goals in 11 matches.

“I’m really excited to be back in an area that means so much to me,” Dunn. “I know I am joining a great team and a club with an incredible history. I am just excited to get started and meet my new teammates.”

Now 25, Dunn has established herself as a regular with the U.S. women’s national side, connecting 22 times in 57 matches. She a member of the U.S. 2016 Olympic squad and earned the Golden Boot (six goals) in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament. Dunn is with the U.S. national team in Carson, Calif., preparing for an international friendly vs. Denmark in San Diego Sunday.

While with the Tar Heels, Dunn was a terror on the field as she stood out as a defender, midfielder and forward. She helped North Carolina to the 2012 NCAA Division I women’s championship as a junior. After playing the regular season on the backline, Dunn switched to the midfield and found the net five times. Not surprisingly, she went on to win the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy.

“It’s a fantastic homecoming for her,” North Carolina Football Club president and general manager Curt Johnson said. “Her career at UNC and with our U.S. National Team speaks for itself. She is one of the greats in the history of the UNC program and returns to NWSL in the prime of her career.”

Dunn scored 19 goals in 59 games over three seasons for Washington.

“Crystal’s contributions to the Spirit have been massive,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said. “She is the definition of an impact player in the NWSL. We thank Crystal for all she has done for our club and wish her good luck in North Carolina.”