PORTLAND, Ore. – Maybe all teams in the NWSL feel a version of this. Go online when they have news, and the feeling rings true. A player may only be with a team for three years, sometimes fewer, yet they can have the type of impact which makes that “only” feel rude. Fans tell us as much.
Still, there are parts of Dagny Brynjarsdottir’s time with Portland Thorns FC that feel distinct from that phenomenon – a product of the strange moment at which she arrived, and the unique and special moment at which she departs.
When she arrived, the Thorns were in the middle of club-defining transition, of which she was expected to be a part. Though never one of the team’s elite players, she was always a valuable, versatile part, playing key roles in winning two trophies and helping restore the team’s performances to the heights of its reputation.
Back in 2015, the Thorns needed to get back to being the Thorns. Brynjarsdottir helped.
Try too hard, and you can see the 2019 Thorns in a similar place, but for the immediate future, they’ll have to regroup without their Icelandic international’s help. Set to return home following her one-year return to Portland, Brynjarsdottir does so having helped reestablished the Thorns’ place as a destination for the globe’s talent, ready to move along with her family to another phase of her life, having answered any lingering questions about the potential of her return.
“It was truly an honor to represent one of the best clubs in the world,” Brynjarsdottir said, in a release distributed by the team. “I am grateful for the belief the club showed in me as a player after I gave birth to my son and for all the support during my time in Portland.”
Before the 2016 season, Bryjarsdottir arrived to a different context. She was just off a stand-out career at Florida State, where individual and team honors crafted one of the higher profiles in the collegiate game. A short spell with German titans FC Bayern Munich only amplified her promise, something that defined the buzz of her Thorns arrival in the winter of `16. Along with names like Franch, Henry, Horan, Klingenberg, Nadim, Reynolds and Sonnett, Brynjarsdottir was part of one of the greatest one-year talent infusions in the NWSL’s short history. And the results were obvious.
Brynjarsdottir scored five times in that debut season, starting 12 games and appearing in 18 while collecting 1,121 minutes. Her team vaulted from sixth (the previous season) to first, claiming the organization’s first NWSL Shield and returning to the postseason after a shock, one-year hiatus. The next year, challenged to adapt to more defensive roles, the natural attacking player was on the field in Orlando, Florida, as the team claimed a second star. Across four playoff games in her NWSL career, Brynjarsdottir appeared in all of them.
(Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Thorns FC)
Along the way, international duty would also demand her attention, and before the 2018 season, she announced she’d be away from the league while expecting the arrival of her son, Brynjar. They’re part of the reason her collection of games, starts, and goals don’t jump out at you. But in the presence behind the 53 games, 36 starts and six goals she tallied in Portland, Brynjarsdottir was a key part. There’s a reason why both the team president (Gavin Wilkinson) and its head coach (Mark Parsons) tried so hard to get her back before the 2019 season.
“Dagny’s mentality to always want to improve, compete and support her teammates was contagious and very important this season ...,” Parsons said. “Off the field, Dagny, (Brynjarsdottir’s husband) Omar and Brynjar are Thorns for life and we look forward to seeing them back at Providence Park in the future.”
Maybe this is what it’s like with other teams, too; when, from a distance, you see the reaction to a departure and wonder if there's something you're missing; something about a connection between player and club that can only be seen up close. The Thorns themselves have been here before – perhaps many times before. The return of Ashleigh Sykes to Australia following that 2017 title campaign feels like the most obvious parallel. Something has to be there, in those connections, that goes beyond the numbers, the trophies, the time that these players are in market. Brynjarsdottir was only with Portland for three seasons over four years. Why does this departure seem so important?
Perhaps in time, as the NWSL grows and its history crafts a broader context, departures like this one won’t mean so much. Players want that, and although these moments feel special, those of us that follow the league so closely want it, too. We want a place where the decade-long stays standout, even if they’re at the expense of the three-year ones. Right now, though, this one does stand out. It’s because of what Brynjarsdottir meant when she agreed to sign almost four years ago. It’s because of how the team, the player, and the fanbase around them have changed in the years that followed.
Now, each are in a different place, and each have to move on. One day, they may come back together. Who knew what the future held when Brynjarsdottir originally returned home once the 2017 season was done?
For now, though, Brynjarsdottir’s life is moving in another direction. And in the Thorns’ future, the memory of her impact will have to suffice. For now.