Somewhere along the way, we lost perspective with Crystal Dunn – we being the outside world.
As a teen, she was a promising U.S. women’s national team prospect, a member of the U-20 team that won the 2012 World Cup. With the University of North Carolina, she famously won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s defensive player of the year award and offensive player of the year in different seasons.
There was little question that she was headed for success, but there was a burning question – an impatient question, perhaps – about how that success would come about. Is she a fullback or a forward? Or is she a midfielder? Paul Riley is Dunn’s coach now, with the North Carolina Courage, and first coached her when she was a teenager in New Rochelle, N.Y. Back then, Dunn was a raw talent – the fastest player on the field and willing to take players on 1-v-1.
U.S. head coach Jill Ellis tried a then 22-year-old Dunn at fullback in the buildup to the 2015 World Cup. Dunn was the final cut from the 23-player roster. Devastated, she regrouped and turned in an MVP season with the Washington Spirit – at forward. Cue the debate.
Versatility has long been something celebrated. It’s especially helpful in trying to earn a place on a World Cup or Olympic roster. Dunn, unlike in 2015, is a virtual certainty to be on the U.S.’ roster for the 2019 World Cup (assuming qualification next month). Her versatility remains one of her strong suits, but it has also become a fixation of the conversation around her. It’s difficult for it not to be; during one U.S. match this year, she played three different positions. But amidst the distraction of that narrative, it’s important to acknowledge that Crystal Dunn keeps getting better.
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