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Crystal Dunn succeeds as USA's plug-and-play soccer asset
Outside back sparks World Cup champions
 
Published Thursday, October 3, 2019 3:06 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | U.S. SOCCER
Crystal Dunn played outside back on the U.S. Women's National Team that won the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France.

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Put Crystal Dunn in any position and she will get the job done.

The first-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner cemented her place on the U.S. women’s national team as an outside back under head coach Jill Ellis in 2018, and Dunn rewarded Ellis’ faith with a tireless work rate over the summer in France by playing 540 of 630 minutes.

“My journey is obviously super unique,” Dunn said. “I do play pretty much everywhere on the pitch, and it was not an easy journey getting to where I am. It was always hard to find a place on the field for me because I can do so many things, but we needed an outside back at the time. I remember early 2018, we had a bunch of injuries, and that’s how I was introduced to playing outside back on the team. I made the position my own.

“There was a time I struggled. I didn’t really know what was expected of me, but I think there was a lot of trust from the staff just to go out and play, and be the best player I can possibly be, just from a different position.”

Said Ellis: “She was actually a center back for me on my under-20s years and years ago. Just to see her at this level, you always saw something special in her when she was a young player. She had the mentality. She obviously had the physical capacity. She was such a versatile player—she played so many positions. To see her now as a consistent starter for this program, having the platform that she did in the World Cup, which was fantastic and to do so well, it’s great.”

A demand for an outside back with the national team created an opportunity for Dunn, but Ellis would not limit her role to that position.

“That’s where she’s meant to be at this particular moment,” Ellis said. “Do I think she could play another position for the senior team? I do, because I think she’s that talented, but I think for us initially it was need based. We were very heavy on forwards, and she just did it incredibly well. She’s hard to beat one-v-one. She can get off fantastic crosses. She really filled a bit need, and then kind of owned it. She did an exceptional job of adapting pretty quickly to the position. To do it that well on the world’s stage against some of the best forwards in the world was tremendous.”

Dunn has 24 career goals for the national team, but doesn’t have one in 2019 going into the final two matches of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Victory Tour. The U.S. play the Korea Republic on Oct. 3 in Charlotte and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Dunn returns to National Women’s Soccer League action with top seed North Carolina Courage on Oct. 12 in their regular season finale against No. 8 Sky Blue FC (5-5-13, 20 points). The Courage (14-5-4, 46 points) host a playoff match on Oct. 20 in Cary, which is also the site of the NWSL championship Oct. 27.

While goals have been fleeting for Dunn for country, she is tied for third for club with seven.

“There are a lot of heavy legs—not too many injuries, which has been great,” Dunn said. “Our team has been pretty healthy. It’s all about managing.”

After the Courage lost the 2017 NWSL final 1-0 to Portland, Courage coach Paul Riley immediately set out to bring Dunn back to the States. At the time she was playing for Chelsea in England.

“It was probably 10 minutes after we finished the final. I walked into the locker room, and the coaching staff were all there,” said Riley, who also coached Dunn while she was growing up in New York with the Albertson Fury. “I said, ‘we need another player. We need a big time game changer type player.’ They all looked at me, and said, ‘well who is the game changer you think we can get who can change our team?’ I said, ‘Crystal Dunn.’ They said ‘you’re out of your mind. How are going to get her?’ I said ‘I think she wants to come back. We need her. She will fit right in with our culture.’ An hour after the final, that was our complete goal was to get Crystal Dunn.”

Riley’s wife Tracy coached Dunn when she was 12 and making the jump from a town club to premier side.

“She was actually the one who got Crystal to come over,” Riley said. “She got her as a guest player, and then we got her and Emily Menges, who now plays for the Portland Thorns. My wife got both of them to come over and play. Once we got Crystal, we got most of the top players to come with her.”

Dunn went on to play under Phil Casella at Albertson Fury.

“He coached Crystal from probably U-15-18,” Riley said. “My wife coached them around U-13 and 14. Even then, you could see that Crystal had tremendous love for the game and tremendous aptitude for the game. To see how she’s improved now, it blows my mind, to be honest. I know her as that little one who was playing for a local town team when we saw her.”

Riley noted that Dunn has always been athletic, but she leans less on that strength now.

“When we first had her, she was an athlete, and now she’s developed into a proper footballer,” Riley said. “When she was young, she relied on her athleticism, her speed, and now I think she’s much more well-rounded. The athleticism stood out as a young player. Now it’s her ability on the ball and tactically to understand the game. That says a lot of what she has put into the game.”

At 27 years old, Dunn has accomplished just about everything. She won the 2012 NCAA title with North Carolina and Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top player. She won the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan, became the youngest player to earn NWSL MVP at age 23, the NWSL Golden Boot in 2015, and added world champion to her resume over the summer.

“Crystal Dunn is definitely a one of a kind player that you don’t see very often in the game,” said Courage and national team forward Jessica McDonald. “In a lot of sports, not a lot of people can play multiple positions. You just don’t see that. It’s very, very rare. So to be able to throw Crystal Dunn in a game, and be like, ‘you’re going to be playing this position today,’ and she still is able to succeed in that position, I admire her more than she obviously knows. She’s a really good friend of mine, but I don’t sit there and tell her ‘you’re absolutely amazing,’ but she is. She’s shown the world that. She’s proved herself. Not a lot of people give her a lot of credit, but I definitely do, because I believe that I can trust her in any position on the field, and she will absolutely dominate.”

Riley believes Dunn is evolving, and the next national team coach – Ellis is stepping down after the victory tour – will play her higher up the field.

“Crystal knows our mantra, which is ‘no finish line,’” Riley said. “There’s always ways you can get better. Crystal has still more potential. Technically she can get better. She can get better in the position that she’s playing for our club, which is a No. 10. I think the new national team coach will move her up the field. I don’t think they’ll play her at left back. She has to know she’ll play a different position, I think, with the new coach. The great thing about Crystal is because she plays so many positions, she’s always learning. It’s not a position that she’s so used to and knows like that back of her hand. That’s the challenge for her, and that’s going to be the continual challenge to improve and know the game better, and be involved with different positions, which is not easy to do. She takes it all in stride.”

 

 

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