LOS ANGELES — For someone who has made her living making opposing defenders and goalkeepers uncomfortable, Crystal Dunn has decided to put herself well outside of her comfort zone.
For the next 18 months, the former South Side High School graduate will ply her trade with the Chelsea Ladies FC in the Football Association Women’s Super League in England.
It certainly will be no easy transition, considering Dunn has played her entire career for domestic sides and the U.S. women’s national team.
“I’m picking my life up going to a faraway land,” Dunn said Friday as she began U.S.’s training camp. “That’s something that I haven’t really had to deal with in my life. I’m very excited about the soccer part of it, being in a soccer environment, being a part of a huge club. Chelsea is incredible, how close-knit they are with the men’s team. It was just something hard to pass up.
“I am obviously nervous to be far away from my family. My parents are used to seeing me at every home game. Now we have to talk about flights to England. It’s going to be different, but it’s definitely a challenge that I’m ready for.”
With no major tournaments on the women’s calendar until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, Dunn figured this was as good time as any to test out the waters across the Atlantic.
“I’m 24 and I’m at the point in my career that I won’t have another chance like this for another five years,” she said. “And in five years, I don’t have any idea of where I’m going to be. This is the definitely the time to do it now.”
Chelsea coach Emma Hayes, who directed the Long Island Lady Riders from 2001-03, said it “was a no-brainer” bringing the Rockville Centre native to England.
“At this moment in time she’s one of the top up-and-coming players in the world,” she said at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention earlier this week. “Her rise has been steady, but every single person I speak to is always excited about her as a player. They’re complimentary to the impact she brings to the game, irrespective of her position.”
Dunn’s accomplishments are well documented. She was the 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy winner as the best women’s college player. After she was the final cut from the U.S. team that captured the 2015 Women’s World Cup title, Dunn earned MVP honors while leading the National Women’s Soccer League in goal-scoring. She earned a regular spot with the national side last year while scoring in the Olympics (18 goals in 45 international matches). She also tallied twice in the NWSL final in the Washington Spirit’s loss to Western New York.
Dunn sees plenty of room for improvement. She said she wanted “to get better technically, understanding the game more.”
“The thing about England is that it’s such a soccer culture that I feel that I will be forced to be around soccer without even knowing it, so I am constantly in a soccer environment that I will never have been exposed to before,” she said.
It’s about going beyond her athleticism.
“I am only going to get so much faster in my career and only get so much more agile,” Dunn said. “Now it’s time to tweak my game by focusing on beating players but not just my speed, but with my ability to move the ball and be deceptive.”
Dunn will join Chelsea after camp ends later this month. She will return for future camps and tournaments, such as the She Believes Cup in March.
“She’s going to come into an environment, unlike most NWSL teams, where the minute she gets into the building, she’ll be having two meals a day there,” Hayes said. “She’ll be involved in a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. set-up every day. Everything she possibly needs and a world class environment that will challenge her and push her away from the eye of this country. She is so excited about developing and learning. That’s what she talks about all the time: ‘that I want to improve.’ “
Pretty scary stuff for someone who already has established herself as a lethal finisher.