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Women’s World Cup: Crystal Dunn turned adversity into success for U.S.

USA v Thailand: Group F - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Crystal Dunn was the last player cut from the U.S. team before the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Now she could come back from France next month as a world champion.
(Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)

Crystal Dunn watched the last Women’s World Cup on television. Sometimes through tears.

The last player cut from the U.S. team, she was crushed not to be in Canada. But from the depths of that disappointment, Dunn has emerged with renewed commitment, a new position and a husband, not necessarily in order.

“I don’t regret anything,” Dunn said Tuesday. “I think I came back actually a stronger and better player, person, everything.”

Dunn might also come back from France next month as a world champion. The U.S., unbeaten and not scored upon two games into group play at this summer’s Women’s World Cup, finishes the first stage Thursday against Sweden before beginning the round of 16 next week.

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Dunn figures to play a big part in what comes next.

After she was cut from the team four years ago, Dunn said she quickly cycled through a range of emotions from disbelief and anger to pity and embarrassment before finally settling on determination. So she redoubled her efforts, promising to make herself so good that she would never be cut from the team again.

It worked. That season, she led the National Women’s Soccer League in scoring with 15 goals and was selected league MVP. But the Crystal Dunn whom U.S. coach Jill Ellis brought to France this month is not just different in mind and spirit, she’s also playing a different position.

A forward in her first go-around with the national team and a midfielder with her club team, she now plays left back for Ellis, who says Dunn’s speed and intelligence allow her to push forward in the attack at times and stay back to defend at others.

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“Dunny has had an accelerated learning curve,” said Ellis, who used Dunn as a center back when she was the U-20 coach in 2010, then moved her to the wing for the senior national team 16 months ago when she went to a 4-3-3 formation.

“The growth and the sophistication, the subtleties, the nuances of learning that position, she’s made good strides,” Ellis continued. “Dunny’s someone that recognizes she wants to continue to grow in that position.”

Not that it’s been easy. An attacker by preference and personality, Dunn says she found it difficult to give that up when her defensive responsibilities required her to hang back.

“What I’ve had to learn is picking and choosing my times to go,” she said. “I don’t just go every play. I only am involved in the attack when I think I can create numbers-up situations. But if I think I’m just pulling more defenders into the space of a [Megan Rapinoe] or an Alex [Morgan], I’m like, ‘Listen, you guys do what you got to do. I’m going to sit back here.’

“It’s reading the game.”

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That’s given her a new appreciation for the outside back position, where some of the best players in this Women’s World Cup — such as England’s Lucy Bronze and Italy’s Alia Guagni — have become game-changing performers.

“I watch all the outside backs and I think, ‘You know what? They are key players,’ ” Dunn said. “It doesn’t matter that they have the word defender attached to their name.

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“I really admire the position now because you can make an impact and do incredible things and be a bad-ass defender as well. I’ve been having fun with it for sure.”

Dunn, who turns 27 next month, also has gotten married since the World Cup disappointment four years ago. Actually, because of the World Cup disappointment.

Dunn was playing for the Washington Spirit when she was the last player cut from the U.S. team and left off its plane ride to Canada. She said she couldn’t bear to watch the World Cup games with her Spirit teammates.

She couldn’t watch them alone either. So she asked Pierre Soubrier, then a trainer for the Spirit, whether he wanted to watch the games with her.

It wasn’t exactly a date — or was it? Whatever it was, it proved to be exactly what Dunn needed. The more she talked with Soubrier, the more he convinced her that the World Cup snub wasn’t the last chapter of her story but rather the first chapter of a new one.

“He told me to look on the brighter side and just turn the page,” Dunn remembered.

This past winter, six months before Dunn would be chosen for this year’s World Cup team, she married Soubrier, who’s now the head trainer for the Portland Thorns FC professional women’s team. Dunn legally changed her name to Crystal Dunn Soubrier ahead of the World Cup.

“We’re in France. And I have a French last name now,” she said, adding that Dunn will remain the only name on the back of her jersey. Not that she would notice what it said there because she is looking ahead, not behind.

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“I am happy with the life I live right now,” she said. “I can’t really sit here and say everything would have been completely different. Who’s to say I would have stepped foot on the field [in 2015]? I don’t even know if I would have gotten a World Cup debut.

“But where I am right now in life, I don’t regret anything.”


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