Special to Newsday
HOUSTON — She may have begun the game on the bench and played only 24 minutes, but Crystal Dunn had a big smile Friday night.
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After all, it’s not every day that you qualify for the Olympics.
The United States put on a workmanlike performance to register a 5-0 semifinal win over Trinidad & Tobago in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship at BBVA Stadium.
Dunn, the Rockville Centre product who tied a USA women’s record by scoring five goals in a 10-0 triumph over Puerto Rico in the previous game, did not allow becoming a substitute to quell her enthusiasm.
“I’m super-excited,” Dunn said. “I think the team performed really well tonight. So it’s obviously good to qualify to go out with a bang. We still have one more game, but it’s very soothing that we booked our ticket.”
That ticket is to Rio as the Americans qualified for their sixth Summer Games in as many attempts.
Dunn, 23, was one of the final cuts from the U.S. team that won the Women’s World Cup in 2015, so she is making up for some lost time.
“I’ve been getting playing time, and with the playing time I have been given, I have been capitalizing on it,” she said. “It’s an intense environment at all times. You don’t know when you’re going to play or when you’re not, so you’ve just got to be prepared.”
Dunn came close to scoring in the 86th minute but pushed her attempt wide right.
Forward Alex Morgan, who paced the USA with a hat trick, her third at the international level, gave Dunn a lot of credit for her attitude. Mallory Pugh, a 17-year-old with a lot of promise and talent, started in the former South Side standout’s place.
“We have a great team with players that bring so many different things to the table,” Morgan said. “So I think you have to look at each game one at a time, and that’s what Jill [Ellis, the coach] does. She saw the strengths of certain players and how they break down Trinidad, so Mallory came in and really did well.
“When Crystal came in, she did well as well. It is tough, I imagine, scoring five goals and then not playing the following game. I give her credit for coming positively and helping the team secure that win.”