For Long Island’s Crystal Dunn, A Year Makes a Big Difference
Crystal Dunn was headed to a friend’s house to watch the EURO 2016 final when her phone rang. Once she heard her ringtone, she issued an order to the people in the car: “shut up.” On the other end of the line was USWNT head coach Jill Ellis. Excitedly, the 24-year-old picked up her phone and was told she would be heading to Rio with the team for next month’s Summer Olympic Games.
The year before, Dunn awaited a similar phone call. Ellis was calling players, that time to tell them whether or not they would make the squad for the Women’s World Cup. The news was not what Dunn wanted to hear; she was told she would not be headed to Canada, and watched from home as the team lifted the World Cup for a historic third time.
In between the two phone calls, the Rockville Centre, NY native had a pivotal year involving a switch from defense to attack, a record shattering season at the club level, and bringing herself from outside the USWNT core to cementing herself as an integral part of the team’s quest to be the first team to win the Olympic gold a year after winning the Women’s World Cup.
After the first phone call, “I completely changed my focus into just trying to be the best I could be for my team in the NWSL,” Dunn said. Four days after the Women’s World Cup squad was made public on April 14, Dunn, then considered to be primarily a right back for club and country, scored her first professional goal in the Washington Spirit’s 3-1 rout of FC Kansas City. That was only the beginning of a season that ended with Dunn moving up the field and playing as a forward, scoring 15 goals by the end of the NWSL season. Dunn walked away winning the league’s Golden Boot award and the MVP award by season’s end.
When the first opportunity arose for Dunn to rejoin the team, Ellis wasted no time, inviting the Washington Spirit player back for the team’s first match after winning the Women’s World Cup, a friendly against Costa Rica in August.
“I think Jill respected me and knew what I had done in the season, and I feel like, out of respect for me as a player, and probably as a person as well, she felt that it was great for me to get called back in,” Dunn said. “I think she felt that this was a good time for me to get brought back in and see where I’m at and basically try to give me a new role on this team.”
She again made the jump from defender to forward, this time for her national team.
Since rejoining the national team, Dunn scored all 13 of her international goals, her first coming against Haiti in September. She scored six goals during the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and had a five goal performance against Puerto Rico in the group stage. Dunn won the Golden Boot at the end of that tournament as the USWNT booked their place in Rio.
The positional change is now a proven success, changing her on-field identity in the process.
“To put up as many goals as I did last year was just above and beyond what I ever thought I would do because I’m competing with top-ranked forwards that have played nothing but forward their whole career,” Dunn said. “I’ve played just about every position on the field and I’m known as that chaotic player that is just thrown everywhere.”
Though Ellis has lauded Dunn’s “tremendous flexibility,” Dunn has not always enjoyed being so versatile. “I feel kind of left out that everyone’s kind of gotten to a point where they are in a set position,” she said. She is now in a set position heading into the Olympics, a position she enjoys over all the rest. “I do think that I was definitely a natural born attacker,” she said, preferring a position “up top.”
After disappointment a year ago, Dunn’s soccer life has altered quickly. Gone is the defender who was a good backup in multiple positions, but too far down the depth chart to crack the Women’s World Cup roster. Instead, a forward crucial to the team’s style of play is headed to the Olympics, playing in a role she is certain of and one she delights in.
The two phone calls personify the last year of Dunn’s career. “The difference between this year and last year is that I almost didn’t want to pick up the phone last year,” Dunn said. She added, “it was a completely different feeling this time around than it was last time around, and that’s a really great feeling.”
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