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Crystal Dunn 'completely different person' for second try at making U.S. Women's World Cup roster

Team USA's Crystal Dunn dribbles past Claudia Soto

Team USA's Crystal Dunn dribbles past Claudia Soto of Chile during their match at Avaya Stadium on Sept. 4 in San Jose, Calif. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

Crystal Dunn barely had enough time to breathe, let alone bask in the glory of a title.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, Dunn and her North Carolina Courage teammates captured the National Women's Soccer League championship with a resounding 3-0 triumph over host Portland Thorns FC.

The next day, they returned home to celebrate the fruits of their labors.

And last Wednesday, she joined the U.S. national team to prepare for the 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship, the qualifying arm for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

For the Rockville Centre native, it just goes with the territory.

"That's basically the story of our lives," Dunn said in a recent interview. "You feel successful, you want to celebrate a real great achievement with your team and then it’s like national camp is right around the corner. So, you can't live it up too much. You're trying not to be overly exhausted for the camp. We had two nights to celebrate. The fans came out to congratulate us, and a blink of an eye, two days later, I'm in camp."

Dunn, 26, who has an apartment in Raleigh, N.C., is with her U.S. teammates in a hotel preparing for Group A matches in nearby Cary. She returns home every day to see her cat Zara, who also is being taken care of by a house-sitter.

"I'm treating the camp like it's any other camp as if I was in a different state," she said.

The U.S. kicks off Group A against Mexico on Thursday, followed by Panama on Sunday and Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 10. The two top finishers in Groups A and B qualify for the semifinals in Frisco, Texas Oct. 14, the winners receiving automatic WWC berths. The losers play in the third-place match Oct. 17 for a WWC spot, the same day as the final.

"We're really confident, but we're definitely not going in cocky," Dunn said. "We have a lot of preparation to go through. The training session is focused. No one jokes around too much. We're obviously having fun. We know we're not in the World Cup yet. This tournament is really huge."

Dunn was one of the final cuts from the U.S. team that won the 2015 world championship. Instead of pouting, the former Albertson Soccer Club and South Side High School standout won the NWSL scoring title and MVP honors.

Though she participated in the 2016 Olympics, this is something that Dunn truly wants.

"I'm super determined," she said. "Four years ago, I was a completely different person and player. The way I viewed life and the game was so different. Everything came full circle. I have another opportunity to fight for a spot on this World Cup roster. I'm just a more confident player. I know who I am as a player. This time around I am way more relaxed. If I focus on the short-term goals, then the long-term goals are going to be in my favor."

In some ways, Dunn has become the victim of her own success because of her amazing versatility. As a central midfielder, she pulled the strings of the Courage attack. For qualifying, Dunn has been listed a defender. She has scored 23 goals in 69 international matches (when she won the NWSL scoring crown with the Washington Spirit, Dunn played as a striker).

Moving from one role to another takes much focus.

"It's not easy in any way," Dunn said. "There's a lot that goes on in my head before camp if I'm playing a different role. I just try to keep it simple. I don't overthink. In training when I'm receiving the ball I always know where I want to go. At the end of the day it's just soccer. There are definitely times in games where, that I'm like, 'Ooof, I'm a little unsure of what to do in this situation,' but you know it comes down to teammates who will help and support me."

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