The United States women’s soccer team is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion, but they are still trying to break into a male-dominated industry. The team has been working hard to create opportunities for young Black girls to play the sport, with mixed results so far.
The women’s us soccer team is the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. They are currently ranked 1st in the world and have won 3 World Cups since 1991.
Crystal Dunn wants you to know who she is and what she looks like.
If you’re a soccer fan, you should definitely pay attention to her anyhow. She’s the attacker-turned-defender who has been playing left-back for the USWNT in recent years despite being out of position, and she’s done so well that she’s ranked No. 6 on ESPN FC’s Women’s Rank. Dunn will almost likely play a major part on both sides of the ball if the USWNT wins a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Despite her accomplishment at the highest level, which includes a World Cup title in 2019, 119 international appearances, and two NWSL titles, she hasn’t always been the center of attention. Her colleagues farther up the field had always gotten more attention, and it struck her hard when she won the World Cup: she felt invisible.
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Dunn told ESPN before the USWNT’s Olympic campaign began, “I’m a veteran on the national team and still feel like I’m battling to get my face out there and my representation out there.” “And if I’m feeling that way, it’s safe to assume that a lot of young Black women are feeling the same way.”
Dunn made it plain that this isn’t about her. It’s about young girls who look like her — little girls who may have grown up with a similar narrative to Dunn’s.
Dunn’s parents, Vincent and Rhonda, had a checklist when they chose to move out of Queens but remain in New York: a strong school system, a reasonable commute into the city, and a safe location for their children to grow up. But it was coincidence that they selected Rockville Centre on Long Island and brought Crystal there as a child.
Crystal’s father, Vincent, told ESPN, “We’ve spoken about it.” “We were considering a few other places in the area, and there’s a high possibility Crystal would not have played soccer if we had remained in Queens and never traveled onto Long Island or chosen a town other than Rockville Centre. We simply happened across a large soccer town.”
Dunn grew up playing soccer simply because that’s what kids in Rockville Centre did, and no one had to push her. Some friends attempted to get her to play lacrosse, but she was uninterested since the women’s version of the sport did not allow checking. Her pals urged her to try out for the basketball team, but her buddies did not make the cut. She always gravitated toward soccer when she was on her own.
On the other hand, no one on her squads resembled her. “I feel like I discovered my identity in this sport at a young age,” Dunn says, “but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t lonely along the road.”
Dunn stated of being the only Black female on her squad, “I was extremely conscious of it from an early age, but my parents always instilled so much confidence in me.” “‘Don’t allow anybody stop you from doing what you want,’ they said. If playing soccer makes you happy, don’t be put off by the fact that you may not look like everyone else. You must listen to your heart and pursue your goals.’ Because it’s not like I’ve played on many teams with so many of us on it, I believe my parents teaching me that from an early age really prepared me for the rest of my career.”
In the nearly two decades since Dunn, now 29, went from bouncing around in an enormous AYSO jersey to playing in the Olympics, not much has changed. Dunn has often been one of the few Black women on her teams, despite the apparent diversity of soccer as a worldwide sport.
Rather of accepting her experience as the norm for other young girls her age, Dunn is working to alter it.
She helped establish the Black Women’s Player Collective late last year, an organization that enables NWSL players like Dunn to put their expertise to good use. The organization, which includes non-Black supporters, has worked on projects like building small soccer fields in disadvantaged areas — sometimes in collaboration with Black Players for Change, despite the fact that the two causes are unrelated — and has more ideas in the works.
That’s not all, however. Dunn also hopes to effect change just by being herself, by being the most Crystal Dunn she can possibly be. That means being fully honest without holding back for the first time in her career.
She was, after all, a player who kept her head down and worked hard without saying anything for years. She provided the polite, noncontroversial answer even when reporters asked her a question on a subject she’d want to rant about, such as her annoyance with being forced into the role of defender.
Despite her attacking abilities, Crystal Dunn has spent the most of her time with the USWNT at left-back. Getty Images/Elsa
She said, “No more.”
“When you’re a rookie or someone who is young and entering into a new area, it’s difficult to advocate for yourself and feel like you can put yourself out there,” Dunn said. “I’ve been on the national team for 11 years and have over a hundred caps, and I now feel like I’m in a position to advocate and push for more, particularly in terms of diversity in the sport, because I’ve reached a point where I feel like I can ask for those things.”
In the last couple of years, her position on the USWNT has been more secure than ever as the team’s sole dependable left-back option for the style they want to play. She’s also settled in with her team, signing a three-year contract with the Portland Thorns this year, where she’s a regular starter as an attacking midfielder, allowing her to spend more time in Oregon with her husband, who works as an athletic trainer for the Thorns.
Dunn is still the first in the locker room to initiate a dance party and crack jokes during practice. Her Instagram feed is dominated by pictures of her cats and hens, and she quips that she’s more interested in hearing about them in Japan than chatting to her husband. She joked from Japan, “Every day I receive videos — I need evidence of existence.” She has, however, allowed a more serious side to show through.
Her father said that it’s part of his daughter’s recent “maturation” and personal development. “She’s not scared to express her opinion,” he added, “which has been a huge change in the past couple of years.”
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So, now that she’s more established, Dunn can be more open about everything, from her marginalization as a Black woman to what she actually feels about playing left-back in the midst of all the praise for her flexibility. Her standard response in the past has always been that she just wants to assist the squad. That isn’t a lie, but there’s a lot more to it.
“I guess I simply grew weary one day — do people not understand what I’m going through?” Dunn laughed as he stated this.
To begin with, continually switching positions from offensive midfield to the defensive line is much more difficult than Dunn makes it seem.
“It’s difficult to switch off playing as an attacker in the past and then come into the national team, on the greatest platform, and be expected to be the best outside-back in the world,” Dunn said. “I don’t believe people realize that.”
But, as Dunn embraces her true self, she can’t help but believe that as a full-back, a piece of her is frequently left behind.
“I’m always hoping to have a chance to go up the pitch a little bit,” Dunn said. “What I’ve been attempting to do, and what has helped me find pleasure as an outside-back, is to feel as though I can contribute my own flare to the position. No one can play any position quite like Crystal Dunn, and although my primary duties are to remain linked to the back line and defend, once I’m given the go-ahead, I’m free to be Crystal Dunn.”
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When Sweden beat the United States Women’s National Team to begin the Olympics, they did it in part by pushing Dunn back and separating her from her teammates, preventing her from working her magic. The secret to Dunn’s style of full-back play is out, and as the USWNT enters the elimination phase of the tournament, beginning with a quarterfinal against the Netherlands on Friday, more teams will attempt to restrict her.
“The fact that she can break down teams on the offensive side while still being a very excellent defender is a talent that not many players in the world have, whether it’s a male or female squad,” USWNT boss Vlatko Andonovski said earlier this month. “As they go up the pitch, few players have the capacity to alter their personalities and play styles. Crystal is capable of changing her profile three times in a single assault. She begins as a left fullback in the buildup, but as we go, she alters her personality or profile and plays as a midfielder. Then we’ll see her in one-on-one situations, where she’ll finish with a cross or a shot, which is a forward profile.
“That is what distinguishes her and makes her one of the finest in the world.”
Dunn is a fierce competitor who despises losing, as one would expect from an excellent athlete. Regardless of whether she can assist the USWNT win its sixth gold medal, she is accomplishing her goal just by being on the pitch.
After all, her most memorable meeting with a fan occurred at an airport when she spotted a little Black girl staring at her. Dunn introduced herself and was greeted by the child, who informed Dunn that she already knew who she was since Dunn had encouraged her to take up soccer. That moment’s power has been with her ever since.
Dunn stated, “It truly makes me feel like this is why I play the game.” “Everyone is driven to remain in the sport for a variety of reasons, and my entry into the sport was just for the love of the game — no one pushed me in — and I stayed even when I was the only one who looked like me. So, if I can make anybody who looks like me feel at ease, I believe I’ve accomplished what I set out to achieve.”
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