Crystal Dunn USWNT US Women's National Team
USA Today

Crystal Dunn on SheBelieves Cup, NWSL, and role models

SheBelieves Cup returns to Talen Energy Stadium on February 27 when Brazil takes on England at 4 p.m. before the United States Women's National Team faces off against Japan. 
Tickets to SheBelieves Cup along with a Club and Country Deal that includes tickets to the Union home opener against Toronto FC on March 2 can be found here. 
 
When the 2019 SheBelieves Cup opens at Talen Energy Stadium on February 27, Crystal Dunn will be part of the US Women's National Team side that will play against Japan. Four years ago, Dunn was the final cut from the 2015 US Women's World Cup roster. .Since that time, she has proven to be one of the most versatile, intelligent, and dangerous players in the United States player pool, capable of performing at a high level all over the pitch. Lauren Green spoke with Dunn about how the North Carolina Courage player is preparing for this year's World Cup, how she has developed since 2015, the growth of the NWSL, and who her athletic role model has been. 
 
How has the SheBelieves Cup helped prepare the U.S. women’s national team for tournaments like the Women’s World Cup?
 
It’s been really great having these competitive teams leading into the World Cup. A lot of reports saying this is probably the most competitive pre-World Cup list of teams we’ve ever played against so that’s great. It’s not the first SheBelieves [Cup] so we obviously knew it would be around. It’s really great preparation for us to compete against these top teams that we’re potentially going to face in the World Cup.
 
What’s one thing that fans should watch for throughout the tournament?
 
I think with these tournaments, whether it’s SheBelieves or Tournament of Nations, it’s really important that the fans know these are top teams. If you haven’t been a fan of women’s soccer for a long time and you’re jumping on board now heading into the World Cup, these are really great teams to play against. It’s just important that people know these are high level and these games should be really interesting. They’re getting a little taste of what potential World Cup games could be like.
 
The NWSL is in its seventh season entering 2019 - longer than each of the previous two leagues combined. How do we continue to grow the women’s game in the United States?
 
I think just continuing to put out good product is really important. The more the teams develop and expand, the more people are going to want to watch and be able to attend games. It’s been very successful and everyone is really happy [about that]. I remember when I was in college, my junior year NWSL was not a thing and my senior year, it started up and I had a place to play now. It’s really great that it’s been able to be stable for these last seven years and we can always continue to push for more growth. It’s great that Seattle moved their pitch. I think everyone realized how important it is to keep the standard high in regards to playing surfaces and little things like that that we’re always tweaking every year is really what this league needs to make it to their eighth, ninth and 10th years.
 
How has having that consistent pro-league experience in the United States helped the USWNT prepare for the World Cup and the Olympics?
 
We all compete with each other week in and week out in the NWSL. A lot of us are able to play on a team with a handful of the U.S. women’s national team players so getting that chemistry in your club environment so you’re a little more prepared when going to a national team setting has been really great. For me, I have a couple of the girls on [the] North Carolina Courage and we’re able to build really great chemistry throughout the season. It’s a bit easier to transition into national team camp.
 
You were the final cut on the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster four years ago. How much has that motivated you through this World Cup cycle?
 
I think it’s motivated me in different ways. Four years ago I was angry with myself and I was upset that I was so close. Instead of getting mad or angry for too long, I was like let’s just continue enjoying this game and see what it offers me in the future. I’ve stayed calm, cool and collected throughout the process and haven’t gotten overwhelmed and overworked. I shifted my priorities to something new in 2015 and that was really just helping my team be as successful in the league as possible. I ended up having a great year. I think for me, success soon followed after that disappointing moment. It motivated me to just keep enjoying this game and keep wanting to get better and just know that my better days were ahead of me and to trust the process.
 
We’ve seen you play all over the field for the North Carolina Courage and for the U.S. women. What is you most natural position?
 
I don’t even think I know anymore, which is so funny to say. I feel like I am definitely an attacking player. I don’t really know where specifically that is, whether it’s centrally or out wide. I do feel like I just naturally have a mindset to go to goal or create goals or things like that.
 
How do you think that versatility has helped you carve out a place for yourself on the national team?
 
It’s interesting because a lot of people see it as a positive where they’re like oh your value goes up because you can do so many things. It’s not that I see it that way all the time. Because I don’t have a role that I play consistently that makes me feel like I’m not impactful and I don’t really have that much value on the team. I’ve learned to be like ‘yeah, it’s a unique quality to have and I might feel like I’m alone when people have their set role to train with their club in that role and go to the national team in that role. For me, it’s really cool because I get to see the pitch from so many different angles. I value so many positions now because I’ve played in them. A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to be like ‘I’m a center mid, I’m an outside back, I’m an outside forward, I’m a number 9. For me, it’s actually helped my game because I’m able to really know all the different positions on the field and know where I should be based on previous roles that I’ve played it.
 
Who was your women’s sports role model growing up?
 
I would have to say Serena Williams. I loved watching her play and it was so awesome to have someone who looked like me dominating the game. I think that’s what really made me such a Serena Williams fan from a very young age. I didn’t watch a ton of soccer when I was young. Another reason why I was a Serena Williams fan was that she wasn’t playing my sport and it was really cool to see a woman dominating the game and setting trends throughout her career.
 
Which of your current U.S. women’s national team teammates would you pick as a tour guide in a foreign country?
 
Julie Ertz because she literally leads me everywhere on every trip we go [on]. I don’t even ask anymore ‘Julie, where are we going?’ and take hold of any of our planning of the day. She’s always the one who takes hold of the cool coffee shops to go to. We’ve been to Portugal a couple of times and I’m like ‘great, you set us up and I’ll be there.’ She’s the one who already has her navigation system set up and knows where she wants to go and what she wants to visit, so definitely Julie.
 
How do you think your role has evolved over the last four or five years?
 
Four or five years ago, I was a young professional. I didn’t have a lot figured out, I was a typical player who showed up and wanted to get better and wanted to learn. I fast forward to where I am now and I think I am in more of a leadership role. I’m responsible for helping those around me as well as helping myself out. It’s not so much me in a role where I’m telling people what they need to do. I just have the responsibility now to be like ‘hey you’re new” or “this drill goes like this.” I’m no longer the baby of the group so I’m now able to help shape other players [coming in].
 
Lauren Green is a freelance contributor for PhiladelphiaUnion.com. She is currently a reporter at Sports Illustrated.
 
Twitter: @Lauren_Green08
 

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