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LI's Crystal Dunn finally has found happiness in soccer, the sport she loves, ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Crystal Dunn #19 of the United States controls

Crystal Dunn #19 of the United States controls the ball against Nigeria during the first half of their WNT Summer Series game at Q2 Stadium on June 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas.  Credit: Getty Images/Chuck Burton

Crystal Dunn began to feel very bad. She was winning championships and losing happiness.

She helped the North Carolina Courage claim NWSL titles in 2018 and 2019. But the former soccer All-American at South Side High in Rockville Centre had married Pierre Soubrier in late 2018, and he started working in 2019 as the head athletic trainer for Portland Thorns FC. Dunn struggled with the distance between them.

"I had a bit of a mental breakdown sometimes," she said. "Like after 2019, I really started missing my family a whole lot, and that’s when I realized no amount of winning was going to make me feel better about the situation."

So in January 2020, she contacted her team. She wanted a trade to Portland, saying in their talk that it was a tough decision, but "if you can help me make it happen, that would be so great." And in October, it happened via a three-way deal. She became a happy midfielder this season, getting to work and live with her husband.

"It’s actually been really great," Dunn said. "We have our home set up. We have three cats and five chickens. So I couldn’t imagine him having to [take care of] that all by himself, although he has do it all by himself right now for a couple of months."

That’s because Dunn, who turned 29 Saturday, recently had to leave to join another team. But she’s still happy. That team is the U.S. team that’s bound for Tokyo this month. She was selected in June to make her Olympic sequel, grouped with the defenders on coach Vlatko Andonovski’s roster.

Dunn hadn’t taken her spot for granted despite starting games for the 2016 Olympic team that exited in the quarterfinals and for the 2019 Women’s World Cup winner, and despite 114 appearances, 24 goals and 18 assists overall with the USWNT.

"So getting the phone call from Vlatko was amazing, hearing he trusts me and believes that I can be impactful and help the team win gold," Dunn said. "It’s obviously a really great opportunity for me to take on."

She’s set to take on left back. But the 5-1 Dunn has free rein to head forward when she’s on the ball.

"My hope is to play the position to my most authentic self, which is getting involved with the attack and doing what I have to do to help the team win," Dunn said.

Dunn had left Rio with her first Olympic goal, but without her first Olympic gold.

"I think getting knocked out as early as we did really hurt," Dunn said.

Andonovski is happy to have her on his side to chase a better ending.

"I literally feel comfortable putting Crystal in any position on the field," he said through U.S. Soccer. "She is a fantastic one-on-one defender and is also very talented when she gets forward into the attack on the wings. I know that when she is on the field, she is going to perform."

Her list of accomplishments is longer than that oversize jersey that came down to about her ankles when she was little 4-year-old Crystal, starting out with her Golden Tigers youth team in Rockville Centre.

"I kicked a soccer ball for the first time in Rockville Centre and I truly just fell in love with the sport," said Dunn, who was born in Queens and moved to Rockville Centre as a toddler.

Dunn played with the Rockville Centre Soccer Club and the Albertson Fury. Her South Side days came with 46 goals, 35 assists and three state titles, in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Senior year, South Side faced Greece Arcadia in the Class A final. Dunn said, "The opposition was talking a lot of mess before the game," and she wanted to "shut these people up." She scored four goals — 6-0, Cyclones.

"Being a part of a winning team is great," Dunn said, reflecting on those years. "Winning is fun. So I think just being a part of that legacy and the history of South Side High School was really a bright spot in my high school career."

College went well, too. She was a three-time first-team All-American at North Carolina. Dunn also earned a Hermann Trophy as D-I’s top women’s player, serving as a center back and center midfielder in 2012 when the Tar Heels won the national championship. Her U-20 Women’s World Cup team won that year, as well.

Washington made her the top pick in the 2014 NWSL draft. She took the Golden Boot as the league’s top goal scorer with 15 in 2015 and earned NWSL MVP. After three years, she moved on to England's Chelsea in 2017, then to North Carolina the next year. Then came the trade.

"It wasn’t a bad breakup," Dunn said.

It brought her peace to be alongside Soubrier. They met when he worked for Washington.

"He’s very passionate about his job, and I’m there to support him," Dunn said. "But at the same time, we work together. We’re co-workers. It’s a really great dynamic."

Someday Dunn will be done playing, and she has a legacy in mind.

"Hopefully," she said, "when I look back, I really am remembered as somebody who pioneered women’s soccer to a better place and really helped it grow to something even better."

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