A little over a year out from the 2019 World Cup, the US Women’s National Team roster appears relatively settled in most positions, with fullback being the major exception. Recently, Crystal Dunn has been deputized to fill the role, despite having very limited experience in in the backline. I spoke with Dunn about the new role, how she has been handling the switch, and what it means going forward.
SSFC: With all the talk recently about your position flexibility, I was hoping you could talk about what goes into your preparation. For example, if you know you’re going to be playing fullback this week, how does that change your preparation for a game?
Dunn: There’s not actually a lot of difference, in a sense. You’re told a day or two before the game, and then you’re expected to perform on the pitch. For me, I try to read the game and know that at the end of the day I’m still playing the same sport. I try not to get too caught up in where exactly I am on the pitch, and just focus on our style of play and where my support is going to be, and the things that are basically consistent regardless of where you are on the field.
SSFC: So you’d say that in terms of actual play, it doesn’t feel tremendously different?
Dunn: There is definitely a difference between being in the back line and being in the front line, obviously. But it comes down to knowing that if you haven’t gotten a lot of practice there, you need to make it as simple as possible. Don’t overthink it. You just have to read off of your teammates and gain that chemistry in the spur of the moment. And like I said, it’s about finding my support and knowing where on the pitch I want to go, where am I going to be impactful.
SSFC: Is there anything in particular you find difficult about playing on position versus another? Are there elements that are harder in some roles?
Dunn: I think just being disciplined and knowing you can’t just spray forward whenever you want. You have to read the game and pick moments to push into the midfield or front line. But that’s going to come. Like anything, it comes with repetition. I’m not going to say I’m perfect at playing outside back, because I’m far from that. But I’m going to keep working at it, and if this is where they would like to see me play more often, it’s something where I’m definitely going to have to be a bit more diligent: knowing my positioning, one-on-one defending. Things like that, which I haven’t mastered over the last couple years because I’ve been in the front line.
SSFC: In terms of long-term training, is there anything that’s going to change in terms of your approach? Obviously for your club you’re probably not going to be playing fullback, but in terms of what you need to be doing to prepare during the regular club season, are there things you can focus on more?
Yeah, I think it is going to be challenging because I’m one of the few that don’t play the same position on both national team and club right now. It’s going to probably mean me reaching out to Paul [Riley], maybe saying “Hey, I need to work on this. Even though it might not be for the Courage, I might need a little more work with defending whipped balls in across the frame.” Things like that. So yeah, this is obviously all new to me, and I still don’t know what’s best for me at this level. So I’ll just have to play it by ear.
SSFC: Speaking of North Carolina, could you talk about what the experience has been like there, compared to some of the other places that you’ve been?
Dunn: Yeah, it’s been great. It’s been eye-opening. I went in not really knowing much about the team. I knew a couple of girls but I didn’t know everybody. And Paul of course. This is the first time he’s coaching me, and I’d only heard stories, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I think it’s been great. He preaches a lot about work ethic, and controlling what you can control. Not everyone’s going to be perfect every game, but outworking an opponent always puts you in a better position to succeed. So I really enjoy the fact that we’re all keeping ourselves to the same standard. Everyone walks in and knows that they have to prove themselves every day. So it’s been a breath of fresh air.