Four years after watching her USA team-mates hoist the World Cup from a sports bar, the dynamic 26-year-old left back is out to win one for herself while busting stereotypes about black footballers
Crystal Dunn talks a lot about what she calls the above and beyond stuff. Whether its stepping in to play whatever position is required on the day, offering her trademark levity to the sometimes high-strung atmosphere of training with the world champions or challenging stereotypes about black players in a sport disproportionately played in America by upper-middle class white kids, the ebullient 26-year-old from Long Island is always willing to do the little extra with her infectious smile.
A natural forward whos spent a large chunk of her career unnerving defenders with her explosive acceleration, slashing cuts and preternatural sense of positioning, Dunn will be deployed as a left back when the United States open their World Cup title defense on Tuesday in the north-eastern French city of Reims against Thailand and the debutant to the sports biggest stage is relishing the challenge ahead.
Im really excited to compete against top forwards, Dunn says. As an attacking-minded player I have the chance to add something new to the outside back role and show people it really doesnt matter where you are on the pitch, you can impact the game anywhere.
The re-assignment might elicit stage fright among her less adaptable colleagues but its old hat for Dunn, whos scored 24 goals in 84 international appearances while playing every position except center back, defensive midfielder and goalkeeper for the top-ranked American squad. Her versatility is no accident, but a product of years of training aimed toward busting preconceptions about players who look like her.
As a black woman I always felt growing up I had to do above and beyond stuff to be noticed, to feel like I could hang with everybody else, she says. I tried to implement so many different things in my game so that Im not just known for my speed. Its a stereotype that black players are just really fast, but at the end of day I want to be skilled, I want to be technical, I want to have vision and thats what Ive always tried to promote in my game: not relying on one thing but just being able to outwork players in so many different ways.
Dunn appeared bound for her World Cup debut four years ago, having led the University of North Carolina to a national championship as an attacking midfielder and featured on the U-17, U-18 and U-20 national sides before breaking in with the senior team in 2013. But her struggles in adapting to a fullback vacancy necessitated by a team-mates injury left her among the last players cut from Jill Elliss squad for Canada. Instead, she watched from a jam-packed sports bar in the nations capital with oscillating emotions as the United States hoisted the trophy before a record domestic TV audience.