Crystal Dunn: It’s not about getting knocked down, it’s about how you stand back up

As the NWSL season prepares to kick off in less than two weeks, we are reposting our exclusive interview that we did with the 2015 MVP, Crystal Dunn. This interview was featured in our June 2015 issue of Amplified Soccer Training magazine and we provide it here in full. Can Dunn repeat her amazing 2015 season?

It’s not about getting knocked down, it’s about how you stand back up!

At some point, everyone loses a big game, has a serious injury, gets cut from a squad or does not make the starting team. That’s okay! What isn’t okay, is not taking the risk to continue to pursue the dream. It’s not about getting knocked down, it’s about how you stand back up!

When other young girls were dreaming of being the best soccer player in the world and going for goal, without the slightest thought that she could one day be the leading goal scorer in the NWSL, Crystal Dunn’s focus was much different.

“I talk to a lot of people that say they knew at age 10 that they wanted to score a lot of goals and do this and that. That was not me at age 10! I was picking dandelions and dancing on the field.” 

The story of Crystal Dunn is an interesting one. It’s not interesting in the way that so many other athletes’ stories are; a story of conquering their lifelong dream of making it to the pros or stories of overcoming all odds to achieve an unthinkable athletic feat. Dunn’s story is interesting because it’s just the opposite, success and glory would come early and often for Dunn with little disappointment or adversity.

“A lot of people grow up wanting to be the best from a very young age and soccer was a hobby for me. I was never worried about being the best. I was just worried about playing. No one wants to be on a team where you’re not playing and not enjoying the game but I really never expected to be the best player. I obviously wanted to get better but the end goal was never to be the best or that kind of thing. It was to have fun and enjoy the moment.”

Dunn was one of the best players though. She would lead the U17 U.S. Youth National Team to a silver medal at the World Cup in 2008, while being regarded as one of the most dependable players on the squad. In 2009, as a senior prep star in New York, Dunn earned the distinction of New York Gatorade High School Player of the Year and was named to the NSCAA, ESPN Rise, and Parade Magazine high school All-American teams. She was part of the U20 team that competed in Germany in 2010 and then in 2012, she helped lead the U20s to a World Cup Title in Japan.

Because she was an integral part of every YNT she was on, Dunn had the stage to not only play with the best, but to shine among them. Throughout her entire career people have buzzed about Crystal Dunn with great excitement. The recognition has never slowed down, but Dunn never bought into it either.

“People would come up to me and say I was going to do this and that, but if you don’t believe it yourself it’s just people talking. And it’s not that I didn’t believe that I could it’s just that that wasn’t my goal at that point. At age 18 I was just starting to figure it out for myself. I’m a completely different player now from what I was back then. People would come up to me and say stuff but I was always like, ‘well we’ll see what happens.’”

Dunn followed her passion and love of the game to Chapel Hill where she found herself surrounded by the best that college soccer has to offer. In one of the most competitive environments in collegiate soccer, Dunn quickly proved that she could play with the best as she was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman. Her success rolled over into her sophomore campaign as well but it wasn’t until after she led the Tar Heels to the National Championship as a Junior and won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the top female college soccer player that she began to focus her sights on professional soccer. As a senior, she was recognized as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year (impressively going with the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award she had on her shelf) and was again a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy.

“I actually don’t really share this with anyone because people are always like, ‘Oh you probably wanted to go pro when you were like 10 or 12’ and I’m like, ‘No.’ I didn’t even know much about women’s soccer past college. I was so in the dark. I just thought soccer is fun and ‘Yay soccer!’.”
“My team won the national championship my junior year and then that’s when everything changed for me. It was like I got punched in the face. Something changed in me where I went from being so nonchalant about soccer to realizing that this was it. I was an upper classmen and I had a year and a half left of college and I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do after college?’ Then things started to fall into place.”

Dunn was selected 1st overall by the Washington Spirit in the 2014 NWSL Draft. To this point in her career there had been little disappointment, setback or struggle as individual recognition and championships had been the norm. The setbacks would come though beginning with injuries in 2014.

“I was injured 85% of last year. It was injury after injury and it was different injuries. It was like I’m reinjuring something. It was like ankle here, hamstring there, knee here, and MCLs just everything. For me it was really a dark moment in my life and I use to just be like, ‘Yay, I’ve never had a serious injury.’ Than all of a sudden 2014 comes all I’m like, ‘What did I wish upon myself?” It was like a never-ending thing.”

Then when it came time to finalize the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster, her name wasn’t called.

“It’s painful of course. It was the most painful week I went through when my name wasn’t announced. The world knew my name wasn’t announced and it took a week to really find myself again. I had been playing with the national team for three years and that was enough time to invest in the program and so I had to define myself again. Every day, every game, I’ve been trying to work on little things here and there and I’ve just been trying to get better and life goes on.”

How has she responded? The Washington Spirit superstar is not letting the heartbreak of missing the World Cup stop her from performing.

“I think I told my dad that this is probably the worst best thing that has happened with my name not being called…and it hurt. It hurt a lot. But I don’t think that I have ever felt that before in soccer. It’s crazy that the first disappoint I have is being left off the World Cup roster. I think that saying that out loud actually made me really happy about what I’ve accomplished.”

Currently, Dunn is leading the NWSL in goals and is the only player to be named the ‘NWSL Player of the Week’ three times this season. If anything, the unfortunate news may have lit a fire.

“For me, it’s always about finding the positives in negative moments. I’m going to be here all season, working with the same group of girls and I’m going to be leading, enjoying, and doing whatever it takes for my team to win. I think I’ve used a really bad moment and turned it and made it something great.”

Crystal Dunn. What do you think of when you hear this name? You might think of a UNC standout whose one of the greatest female collegiate soccer players of all time. Perhaps you think about the inaugural No. 1 draft pick of the NWSL. Or, you could think of the girl left off the roster and stayed home while the rest of the USWNT went north to the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Without failure we don’t improve and we don’t have opportunities to learn and grow. Dunn will grow from these setbacks, train harder and make the most of every opportunity to play.

There are a lot of things that might come to mind when you hear the name “Crystal Dunn”. Maybe the next time you hear her name you will think of a champion and the journey and spirit it took to get her there. You will hear her name and you will hear it for a long time to come in the future of American women’s soccer.