When one of the biggest clubs in the world came calling for Abby Dahlkemper last month, it offered an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
The club on the line was Manchester City, a month removed from winning an FA Cup title and looking to add to its talent-filled roster. Dahlkemper, the center back who’d won three NWSL titles, an NWSL Defender of the Year award and started every game of the U.S. women’s national team's World Cup run in 2019, was ready for a new challenge.
Dahlkemper’s move to Man City on a two-and-a-half-year deal became official Jan. 16, making her the latest U.S. star to take her career across the pond to England this season. She joins a list that currently includes Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis at City and Tobin Heath and Christen Press at Manchester United; for the last four months of 2020, it included Alex Morgan at Tottenham. What's different about her move is the length of commitment, which will keep her in Manchester until the start of the 2023 World Cup.
“[Going abroad] was something that I didn’t know if I would get again,” she says. “I am always down for a challenge, and at this stage in my career, I just wanted a new opportunity and a new experience. I’m excited to learn and grow and help the team in whatever way I can.”
The chance with City was unexpected, she says. Even as other USWNT players moved abroad last summer, Dahlkemper had stayed in the NWSL and captained the Courage through the Fall Series, and, aside from a brief loan spell in Australia in 2015, she’d spent her entire career stateside.
But conversations with Man City manager Gareth Taylor and managing director Gavin Makel piqued her interest, and she found that her values and personality lined up with those at City.
“They really value the ball, and they have playmakers out of the back,” she says. “They play attractive but effective football, and they win. It’s going to be a new style for me, but I think that’s good, because I’m going to learn so much and learn different ways to play.”
Dahlkemper also heard positive feedback from Mewis and Lavelle, whom she calls two of her closest friends on the USWNT, about the FA WSL and their five months in Manchester thus far.
The chance to reunite again with Mewis was particularly exciting. Mewis and Dahlkemper’s on- and off-field connection stretches back more than 10 years. They played together at UCLA, for the Courage and the Western New York Flash in the NWSL and for the national team at numerous levels.
“Knowing someone so well off the field, it translates on the field, wanting the best for each other and pushing each other in whatever that may be,” Dahlkemper says. “Seeing Sam grow into a top, top, midfielder—I think she’s one of the best midfielders in the world right now—I can’t wait to play alongside her.”
With the recent influx of USWNT talent, the FA WSL has seen a boost in exposure and popularity this season. In September, NBC Sports struck a deal to air 50 league games across its platforms, marking the first time the FA WSL has been broadcast in the United States.
The recent wave of departures for foreign shores—which also includes top college prospect Catarina Macario's opting to sign with French power Lyon—has stirred questions about the still-growing NWSL, but Dahlkemper thinks the trend is an overall positive for the global growth of the game.
“I think people are just trying to make the most of the opportunities that they’re given,” she says. “The women’s game globally is growing, and that’s a positive thing. To be able to turn on your TV on Sundays and see a women’s game on NBCSN is amazing, so hopefully it continues to trend up.”
Dahlkemper, Mewis and Lavelle will all be in contention to play when City faces off against West Ham on Jan. 31. Man City currently sits third in the FA WSL, with a derby against league-leading Man United in February and the Champions League round of 16 against a to-be-determined opponent in March on the horizon.
USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski confirmed in last week’s training camp that the American contingent at Man City would return to the U.S. in time for camp ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, which is currently scheduled to begin Feb. 18 in Orlando.
Dahlkemper was a healthy scratch for the USWNT’s second friendly against Colombia on Jan. 22—she flew to Manchester the next day—but played the entirety of its 4–0 win on Jan. 18, helping the U.S. defense earn a ninth clean sheet in the team's last 10 matches.
“This team is such a unique environment, because obviously individually you want to do well and perform well, but you’re going to get better through your other teammates,” she says. “This roster is deep and there are so many quality players in each position, so I think it’s the best-case scenario, just because it pushes everyone to bring their best, day in and day out.”
The national team has used the elongated window between the World Cup and the Olympics to experiment with a pool of older, veteran players and new faces. Even amid uncertainty about whether the Olympics will go ahead this summer, the mindset remains focused on striving toward a fifth gold medal.
“We’re preparing as if we are going to the Olympics, and we’re controlling everything that we can control,” Dahlkemper says. “That’s playing well, making the most of each time we get to step on the field together. We’re never satisfied with where we’re at, so we really want to push the ceiling.”
For now, Dahlkmper’s immediate focus is on the new challenge that lies across the Atlantic. She’s eager to experience the FA WSL’s style of play, and, once the U.K.’s third lockdown ends, explore her new city and country. This will be her first time in Manchester, and she’s particularly excited to check out the city’s coffee shop scene post-lockdown.
“I don’t think that there would ever be a perfect time to make a change, but I’m just excited for a new opportunity again,” she says. “It’s something that I think is going to be new and a challenge, and that’s good, because it means I’m going to have to grow and adapt and learn.”