Crystal Dunn: “You realize that life goes on, We all have heartbreaks. This is probably the worst best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel confident, I feel free.” (Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports)
This story was originally posted at BigAppleSoccer.com June 11, 2015
By Michael Lewis
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Even when you have a strong premonition some probable bad news is coming your way, it can still be disappointing to hear.
When U.S. women’s national coach Jill Ellis told Crystal Dunn that she did not make the cut for the Women’s World Cup team in April, the Washington Spirit striker was understandably crushed.
“Absolutely heart-breaking,” Dunn said.
“I grieved like anyone would … about devastating news. You feel discouraged. You feel lost, you feel like the world is coming to an end.”
Well, it might have been the end of the 2015 Women’s World Cup for Dunn, but certainly not the end of the world. Instead of falling into an abyss, Dunn took the high road in so many ways.
“You realize that life goes on,” said Dunn, who was buoyed by fans who gave her a big boost. “We all have heartbreaks. This is probably the worst best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel confident, I feel free.
“For a straight week after receiving the news, “Everywhere I walked everybody was coming up to me, patting me on the back,” Dunn said. “It was comforting. People actually cared. What i learned from this is that i have a lot of support and a lot of fans. That’s what really has gotten me through knowing that this is not the end.
“As much as i wanted to be on the field and be at the World Cup, I think I have a chance at the next go-around and I have to be hopeful that I keep staying the course. That’s what I have been doing in the league. I’ve been working on myself and getting better and learning the game. Just kind of back to kind of my way. I think I lost myself last year. I was trying to overthink soccer. It’s really a simple game.”
Dunn, 22, has made goal-scoring look simple this National Women’s Soccer League season.
If she still had any frustration from the April news, she has taken them out on the rest of the league. As the NWSL moved into its Women’s World Cup break last weekend, the Rockville Centre, N.Y. native has been one of its biggest stories with six goals and two assists in nine games.
“Obviously, I think she should be in Canada,” said Portland Thorns head coach Paul Riley, who coached Dunn on the Albertson Fury when she was a teenager. “No question in my mind.”
Dunn has been the revelation of the NWSL. Not having found the back of the net once as a right back in her rookie season in 2014, Dunn was moved to forward by Washington coach Mark Parsons and she has turned into the most productive player in the league.
“She’s ripped the league apart this year,” Riley said by telephone from Long Island. “She’s been fantastic.”
As coach of the powerhouse Albertson Fury of the Long Island Junior Soccer League, Riley saw Dunn grow up into the player she is today. So, he wasn’t surprised by her attitude after she received the bad news.
“It just shows her mental fortitude of what she has done since he has gone back to her club,” Riley said, “which bodes well for the  Olympics, which I think she should be on.”
Dunn’s attitude most likely comes from her approach to life. As ever effervescent, she is a self-described “class clown.”
“I’m having a blast, I really am,” she said by telephone from Washington, D.C. “That comes down to just me being me. That is just my personality. I just like to be very cheerful. This career gets very strenuous. There’s so much uncertainly. It really could drive you insane. I’m going to be myself and I’m not going to change for anyone. I’m knocked down and I’m disappointed, but life goes on. I’m going to be the same old Crystal.”
She then laughed, which wasn’t the first time during the interview he had done that.
By hybrid, Riley meant that Dunn is quite versatile.
As a player who was a four-time All-America and the Hermann Trophy Award winner as a defender or midfielder with women’s super-college power University of North Carolina, Dunn has been doing most of her damage with the Spirit at forward, a position she hadn’t played since her days with the Albertson Fury and South Side High School.
“She’s a top player, a hybrid player,” Riley said.
“She’s one of the fastest players in the world,” added Riley, whose team has been burned by three Dunn goals in a loss and a draw against the Spirit this season. “She’s difficult to mark.
“She adds something different no matter where she plays. “She works both sides of the ball, which is unbelievable.
When asked being so versatile was a blessing or a curse, Dunn replied, “That’s a really great question. I still struggle answering that. Honestly, I see it as more of a blessing. I tell everyone that when I coach little girls, I [ask] little the kids, ‘What position do you play? And they say, ‘I only play one position.’ I always tell them, ‘No, no get that out of your head now because different coaches will see you in a different position and you’ve got to get ready for it.’
“It actually helped my career. … I wasn’t going to say I can’t. I said, ‘All right, cool. I’m going give it my all, I’m going to try my best.’ I think it’s great that some coaches think that I can be a great defender, a really great midfielder, a really great forward. I think the sky’s the limit. It could that people could view its a negative and I can understand why. I think it’s how you view yourself helps. I think I’m a dangerous player because I can play anywhere. I’ve been playing forward. At any given moment, my coach, Mark Parsons can be like, ‘Crys, we need you to play outside back.’ Whatever is best for the team I’m up for it.”
As for tending goal, well, don’t expect that any time in the near future.
“When I was seven or eight, I was thrown in as a goalkeeper,” she said with another laugh. “I really don’t think I was any good and I don’t remember any of it. So, I can tell you that I wasn’t good. I don’t have any memories of great saves, that’s for sure.”
Dunn is an alternate for the American women, so even during the break she knows she cannot afford to let herself go.
“I mean, you always have to be ready,” she said. “Tobin Heath actually suffered an injury during training camp for the World Cup and Jill called me in. It was kind of short notice. I was out in Seattle training with the team [Spirit] right before the game and they said, ‘We need Crystal to come in for the weekend’ and that’s what I had to do. When they call you just got to be ready.”
And as for Dunn not making the national side, she has looked into herself instead of blaming anyone else, including coach Ellis.
“I was in a way not too surprised, but it is news obviously that no one wants to hear,” she said. “My two and a half to three years on the national team was up down and up down, and I think for me it was a struggle getting back from injury after injury. I think just wasn’t able to be to gain my momentum.”
Now, it’s the rest of the NWSL’s task to find a way to stop Crystal Dunn’s momentum.