Crystal Dunn brings the fun that women’s soccer needs

Not to take anything away from Carli Lloyd, a clutch performer of the highest caliber and someone who has worked very hard to get where she is, but something was missing in the Sports Illustrated cover story on her after the World Cup.

If you have yet to read the story, the upshot is that she got really upset after being cut from a U.S. youth team, so her family turned her over to James Galanis, who made her a good player by essentially telling her to quit the rest of her life.

“Forget about friends, forget about family, forget about boyfriends,” Galanis told her. “If this isn’t No. 1, let’s just walk off the field right now. What I’m saying to you, Carli, is that at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, if I call you and say, ‘I’ll meet you at the field in half an hour,’ and you’re at a party with your friends, don’t tell me, ‘Sorry, Coach, I’m at a party.’ You’ll turn to your friends and say, ‘Sorry guys, I have to leave; I’m going to training.’ Do you understand the commitment here?”

Yikes.

We know hard work is part of world-class soccer. But there’s something else, something every bit as essential as running beep tests, maybe even more essential than ditching a party at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night because your private coach needs you right this very minute.

And like a lot of things in sports, that other essential thing can be found in an NSFW clip from Bull Durham:

Yes, fun. This game is supposed to be fun. FUN, BLEEP IT!

Who plays soccer and has fun? Megan Rapinoe, for one. She’s also the most creative player the U.S. women’s team has. That’s not coincidence.

Then there’s Crystal Dunn. If the USA wins the World Cup again in 2019 (FIXED from 2015 – see comments), maybe Dunn will get the nod for the big article, and we can hear how she streaked past a lot of dour German players for the winning goal. (Actually, that’s a stereotype — German legend Conny Pohlers is one of the funniest players I’ve ever encountered. But she’s retired.)

Dunn brought the fun to the SoccerPlex on Saturday night, tearing at the Seattle Reign’s back line and scoring a goal that looks like some sort of video game glitch in which a player suddenly zips from one part of the screen to the other:

The abrupt edit in that video doesn’t do justice to how quickly Dunn zipped past her defender to score that goal. It was as if a wormhole opened above the immaculate grass of the Maryland SoccerPlex just a few yards away from the beer garden.

“Oh sure, I’d have plenty of fun if I had wheels like Crystal Dunn,” you might say. But Dunn also plays a bit of joga bonito, the beautiful game. Look closely next time you see her with the ball, and you may see her make a subtle shift to unbalance her defender. Or she might put her foot on top of the ball as if she’s going to pull it back, only to slip it forward.

She’s got skills. And like an old-school soccer player who enjoys playing soccer, she likes to use them.

(Quick aside: Isn’t it funny that, for all the fuss over Anson Dorrance’s North Carolina program being behind the times and playing a physical brand of soccer while other college programs are focusing on soccer skills, three of the most skillful Americans — Dunn, Tobin Heath and Yael Averbuch — all played for Dorrance at UNC?)

And she’s a fun interview. She has a disarming self-effacing wit, joking about being caught offside so much. “I know I’m fast, but I just get so excited!” (I’m paraphrasing because my iPhone ate this interview. Bad, bad iPhone. Must have been worn out from all the tweeting I did on it while the Plex was Internet-less.)

Who else looks like she’s having fun out there? Diana Matheson. In her case, she’s just glad to be back after months of traumatic injuries. But she’s thrilled to be combining with Dunn as well.

Asked by Kevin Parker (@starcityfan) about that Spirit goal in which Matheson and Dunn took on four defenders, Matheson deflected all the praise to Dunn: “She probably took on three of them.”

Matheson also signed many, many autographs, as did many players. It was reminiscent of Abby Wambach after the 2011 World Cup, working her way through a line in Boston that snaked through the Harvard campus. Matheson didn’t mind, with one caveat:

“They were pushier, too. They were getting aggressive.”

So for the good of the fences at the SoccerPlex, maybe folks should back up a bit.

Other notes from the Spirit’s 3-0 win over Seattle:

– Seattle coach Laura Harvey’s comments could be summed up in three words: “We were poor.” She wasn’t angry, just stating the facts as she saw them.

parsons

– Washington coach Mark Parsons said he was wearing the same shirt he wore at the draft, when he also thought he got the better of Seattle and his good pal Harvey. My phone camera doesn’t do justice to how much he was sweating in that shirt on a steamy night at the Plex.

Parsons saw this game as a momentous achievement for the Spirit, stressing his respect for the Reign and Harvey. “Brave, intelligent and effort made that a complete performance. We’ve been striving to play soccer defensively like that, being hard to beat, hard to break down. … Offensively, we want to be a team that can build patient and can break and counter. I’ve said for a while until we beat a top team playing this style, we’re always going to fighting to get there. Tonight, we got there.”

– Speaking of the draft and the defense — at some point, those of us who cover the Spirit need to write about those players. Seattle’s Kim Little had her moments, but second-round pick Megan Oyster and fourth-rounder Whitney Church slammed the door on the top-scoring team in the league, and it’s no fluke. They’re only getting better. Estelle Johnson and Katherine Reynolds provide the experience, and now Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are coming back into the lineup. The defense hasn’t often been seen as the Spirit’s strength, but we might need to rethink that perception.

– Women’s pro soccer SoccerPlex record 5,413 saw the game. The Spirit should probably take a page out of the Freedom’s book and put some concessions and portable toilets on the far side of the field as well when they’re expecting a crowd of that size. The concourse was borderline impassable at halftime, and I’m sure much of the crowd missed the first Spirit goal less than a minute into the second half.

– And among the crowd tonight:

Expect a few pics of Spirit players returning the favor.

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