It was two weeks to the day since Crystal Dunn had paraded in triumph through the streets of lower Manhattan, and here she was in Midtown on a garden terrace at 30 Rockefeller Plaza talking about . . . the Olympics?
Such is life as a player for the U.S. Women’s National Team in soccer, where the schedule places the two biggest events on the international calendar in back-to-back years.
Dunn, who grew up in Rockville Centre, played a key role at left back for the team that won the World Cup final in France on July 7. After a brief break, she returned to her club team in the NWSL, the North Carolina Courage.
Then, come Wednesday, she attended an NBC Sports event to mark one year out from the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games.
As dizzying as the past few months have been, the months ahead figure to offer few chances to rest and reflect.
“This is obviously a really challenging time, because we just came off this high, we won the World Cup, and we have now a year before the Olympics start,” Dunn told Newsday. “There’s really no time to kind of sit and think about what we’ve done in the past.
“It’s now all about: How do we put together a really great team to compete in the Olympics? I don’t think it’s happened where a team wins the World Cup and then the Olympics the very next year, because it is challenging.”
The good news for the Americans is that unlike in 2016, when they won the World Cup in ’15 and failed to medal in Rio, the championship team is expected to return mostly intact.
“We had to rebuild the team in a short amount of time,” Dunn said of 2016. “It’s about fitting new pieces in. I think this time around it’s actually going to help that we have everybody full-in wanting to be part of that Olympics roster.”
Dunn, 27, played on the failed 2016 Olympic team, but she was a late cut from the 2015 World Cup roster. At the time, it was a blow, but she has long since overcome it and become one of the world’s most versatile players.
Although she currently is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, her parents still live in Rockville Centre and she visits frequently.
She recalled the support she got from her hometown during a celebration for making the Olympic team in 2016, and more recently the outpouring during the parade down Broadway.
“The New York City parade was something where I was like, ‘Wow!’” she said. “I can’t even put it into words that feeling of all those people that stopped doing what they were doing, people yelling from tall buildings, throwing papers and everything. It was an incredible feeling to be a part of that.”
It was not easy to come down from that high, but for Dunn and her teammates it helped that the club season was underway, and the women’s league wanted and needed their big names on the field as soon as possible.
“I think the easiest way to recalibrate was basically being thrown back into the NWSL,” Dunn said. “We really didn’t have a lot of time to celebrate too long. We took seven, eight days for ourselves, but at the same time we were kind of like, ‘OK, time to transition back to our club teams and finish out the season.’
“It’s definitely hard. I get a lot of questions still about the World Cup. But a part of me is like: I want the North Carolina Courage to be dominant this year. I think it’s just about balance, still enjoying what you were able to accomplish at the World Cup, but also knowing the season is not over and you want to perform.”
Dunn who last year won a league title with the Courage, said the most difficult thing about returning was getting up earlier in the morning for practice.
“I was like, man, I didn’t train this early when I was with the national team!” she said. “All the games in France were at 9 o’clock at night, so our trainings were in the evening. Going back to a different schedule was harder for me.
“But now that I’ve been back, I’ve been welcomed with so many great messages from the club and I’m back in full. They have me 100 percent.”
The championship game is Oct. 26, after which the Olympics will come more clearly into view. The United States has won four of the six gold medals awarded to date.
So which is the bigger prize, the World Cup or the Olympics? Dunn called it “apples and oranges.”
She said what makes the World Cup special is the sole focus on women’s soccer, but what makes the Olympics special is that women’s soccer is not the sole focus.
“The thing about the Olympics that I’ve experienced is that you as athletes are supporting so many athletes in different sports,” she said. “It’s all Team USA. That’s something so incredible where you’re connected to so many athletes that are not even competing in your sport, yet you feel this connection, because you’re all Americans.”
Dunn and Allie Long of Northport brought a strong Long Island connection to the 2019 Cup team. Dunn said she hopes that their success builds on the existing strength of youth soccer in the area.
“Obviously playing the sport I never really sought out to be, ‘Oh, I’m this role model for people,’” she said. “I think naturally that’s what happens when you’re placing yourself on a big stage and people see you play. But I would hope Long Island remains as competitive as I remember it to be. I feel like it’s created who I am. It’s a part of me.
“South Side High School, we won so many state championships, and from there I learned what it took to win, what it took to be top of your class. I think that’s what Long Island does – keep pushing these athletes to get that feeling of winning, so when they go on to the next stage of life they’ll understand it’s not easy, that you have to grind and you have to go through so many top teams in order to get there.”