Crystal Dunn: “A lot of being in the World Cup is being able to pull out any tool that you need.” (Michael Chow – USA Today Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

REIMS, France — We see them run.

We see them get physical.

And we see them kick this damn little sphere around the field and sometimes into the goal.

Yet, being a soccer player, particularly a champion, is much more than being a great athlete.

Sometimes it comes down to having great resolve.

Exhibit A was at center stage at Stade Auguste-Delaune Monday night as the U.S. national team, playing by far their poorest game of the Women’s World Cup, managed to hold off an up-and-coming, technical and sometimes physical Spain team to record a 2-1 win in the Round of 16.

“A lot of being in the World Cup is being able to pull out any tool that you need,” USA defender Crystal Dunn said. “Physically, we played a game three days ago. We knew we might have had tired legs today. It’s really between the ears. You’ve got to want to it more. This team really dug deep. We wanted to win. We had to win.”

The victory was ugly and probably won’t be used as a training video, unless you want to give aspiring players a lesson or two about resolve.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Dunn, a Rockville Centre, N.Y. and one of two players from the Albertson Soccer Club who is on this squad; the other is Northport, N.Y.’s Allie Long.

“It was hot outside, he said. “We were on three days rest. At the end of the day, we don’t complain. We know what the challenges were going onto the field today. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to come down to maybe to PKs and that’s what it came down to and we were happy it came down to that.”

Well, Dunn alluded to a penalty-kick shootout, but she meant the two penalty kicks by Megan Rapinoe, the first one that boosted the USA into the lead in the sixth minute and the last conversion that became the eventual game-winner in the 76th minute.

The Spaniards made the USA sweat with its physical play and ability to break down the back line. They gave Dunn, a left back, a good workout defending her side of the field.

Spain probably felt that Dunn was a weak link as a defender. She is the playmaking midfielder for the National Women’s Soccer League champion North Carolina Courage.

“To stretch my hamstrings [which] were good and well,” she jokingly said.

Then Dunn got serious.

“We knew that Spain was very good at exploiting the flanks and I knew that they were going to have a couple of numbers against me on my side,” she added. “We held them off.”

Dunn said that she probably never defended so much for the national team as in this encounter.

“I feel I had the support behind,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was alone. If I’m stepping out and a play didn’t go my way, I knew I had the cover behind me.”

The USA’s prize for surviving this round? A quarterfinal confrontation with France at Parc des Princes in Paris Friday. Temperatures have been predicted to soar to 100 degrees that day.

“It’s difficult,” Dunn said. “You can’t say a Spain is the same as France. All we can hope is that we learned from this game and we go up a couple of notches and prepare for the next game.

“It’s going to be a great game. Right now, it’s about rest and recovery. And then putting this game to rest.”

Dunn’s husband, Pierre Soubrier, head sports medicine and performance for the Colorado Rapids, will fly in and attend the game.

No trash talk about the game between the couple, who were married on Long Island in December. Well, at least not yet.