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As arguably the most noteworthy player on the market in the NWSL's free agency era, it comes as no surprise that Crystal Dunn's move to NJ/NJY Gotham FC is a tone-setter for the league's future.

While it -- as well as the reported signings of Dunn's U.S. women's national team colleagues Rose Lavelle, Tierna Davidson, and Emily Sonnett --  demonstrates Gotham's interest in contending for titles for the foreseeable future, it also serves as the prime example of the NWSL's young free agency experience at work. The ability for players to sign new deals freely, long a mainstay of professional leagues on the men's side of the ball, was introduced last year and acts as the centerpiece of the league's first collective bargaining agreement, which pushed the needle considerably for NWSL players' rights as laborers. Dunn's journey is a high-profile argument in favor of free agency.

Gotham will be her fourth NWSL club in 10 years. She previously played for the Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage, and most recently the Portland Thorns, but she's now on the move for the first time since becoming a mother to her son Marcel in May 2022. Her family was top of mind when navigating the free agency waters this offseason.

Why Dunn picked Gotham

"I have a child now, I'm married," Dunn told CBS Sports earlier this month. "Moving teams this go around feels very different than it has been before, so I think for me, it was always about finding a place I can call home, I can feel like my child is going to have a great foundation to be able to really just thrive in. Because now that he won't be traveling as much with me, it's about daycare and it's about him having this kind of stability that he didn't have the first two years of his life because he was so young and we were just putting him in our backpack and we were like, 'Let's go, kid,' but I think that was massive."

It is fitting, then, that Dunn landed on the one place she already has a history of calling home -- the New York metropolitan area. The 31-year-old is a native, born and raised in the city's suburbs in Long Island, and said she could not resist the chance to finally return to the area.

"Every place I've gone, I've always felt like my heart is in New York," she said. "My family still lives here, I'm a New Yorker and you know how we are. … I just think I am a product of New York and it's such a special place that when faced with this opportunity to play the game that I love, move my family here and just have my friends and family show up and be present at games, I think it was ultimately an easy decision."

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Why NWSL free agency was empowering

That is not to say that Dunn did not have her options. Arguably the most exciting free agent on the market this offseason, CBS Sports previously reported that the Spirit and the Orlando Pride were in the mix to sign the World Cup winner. The player said the flexibility she had as a free agent allowed her to "do my homework" before landing on Gotham. Dunn relished the opportunity to ask questions not just of the clubs, but of her friends across the league.

"It felt really nice to take control over a situation and meet with clubs and be able to say, 'What's so great about the club? What do you guys have to offer?,'" she noted. "I really enjoyed the process and it made me feel valued as a player.

"I know a good amount of Gotham players, so I think that helps a lot when you are looking to go to a new team," she continued. "Having some familiar faces that I can also talk to during the process of choosing a team, asking them what the day-to-day is, how's training, how are the coaches, how's the overall environment and the culture … gave me a place of comfort to be able to be confident in my decision."

The eye test also helped Dunn make her decision. She was impressed by the chemistry Gotham built in their first season under head coach Juan Carlos Amoros, who took home the league's coach of the year honors thanks to his attack-minded approach that focused on the collective.

"What I [saw], outsider looking in, was a team that really enjoyed playing for each other and with each other, and I think that is massive in the NWSL season," she said. "It is really gruesome. It's a long season where you find yourself having momentum and then you lose momentum and then you regain it back and the teams that are adaptable and the teams that have the strong culture and the best chemistry, I think, are the ones that fare better in the end. … I think it speaks to the character of the players, it speaks to the leadership of the coaching staff."

Gotham are building a juggernaut

Dunn's arrival confirms the idea that Gotham's project is currently the most exciting in the NWSL. The club has spent most of their NWSL history outside of the playoff picture, but their quick transition from the league's worst team in 2022 to the champions in 2023 affords them the chance to compete on a regular basis. Her legacy as an elite player in a variety of positions adds some exciting uncertainty around what Gotham will look like with her on the pitch, but she said she will wait to see what Amoros plans for her. It's a continuation of her approach during her time as a free agent -- asking others to demonstrate how they value her.

"That's such a hard conversation to always navigate," she said. "I can't come in and say, 'I'd love to play here' because they could have different plans for me and now I'm kind of inserting myself in a plan that ultimately, it needs to be about what's best for the team. I think coaches being able to tell me what qualities they value in me and my style of play is the beginning of the conversation and then for me, I always obviously ask coaches, 'Where do you see me playing?' and things like that, but I always let them lead the way with those conversations."

Considering Gotham's on-field needs in attack and Amoros' preference to build his plays on the wing, Dunn is well-positioned to be a valuable addition to the team. She seems like a natural fit off the field, too. In addition to being a local and already having some friends on the squad, she joins her new teammates in trying to lure Ali Krieger out of retirement -- "still working on her coming out of retirement," she said with her fingers visibly crossed.

But what about the chickens?

Dunn exudes confidence in her choice, and is completely at ease as she marks her homecoming a decade after beginning her professional career. There is just one thing, though -- she might have to make more trips to the supermarket for eggs than she had to in Portland. She raised chickens for much of her four-year stay in the Pacific Northwest, something that brought unexpected joy.

"It was one of the saddest days in my life when I had to call a farm and basically donate my chickens to them," Dunn recalled. "I really enjoyed my time with them. It was one of the craziest experiences because I'm a New York girl. What am I doing with chickens? But during the pandemic, they were actually so great. I didn't have to go to the grocery store for eggs."

She might be able to do so again depending on where exactly she resides, but just like she did during her free agency experience, she plans to do her homework.

"First of all, I have to look up the rules in the New Jersey area, the New York area," she said. "Do people have chickens? Is that a thing or am I going to get kicked out of my home?"