USA all-rounder Dunn shines from the back
© Getty Images

Back at the Germany 2010 edition of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, such was the strictly defined nature of her centre-back role in that USA side, Crystal Dunn would have thought twice before bringing the ball out of defence and driving forward. Two years on at Japan 2012, however, and a positional change to right-back has meant the shackles have come off, with Dunn embracing the move to grow into one of the most potent attacking weapons in the Stars and Stripes’ armoury.

This was underlined in United States’ quarter-final clash against Korea DPR. The Americans’ No4 took control of her flank in some style, getting forward at every opportunity to let fly at goal and send crosses into the box – including the one Chioma Ubogagu headed home for USA’s extra-time winner.

“It’s really quite different from the last World Cup, but it’s been a good change because I’ve got more scope to go forward,” she told FIFA.com. “I really like to attack so, personally, this position fits my profile better.”

Those who have seen Dunn in action for the University of North Carolina will attest to the truth of this statement, as the player revealed. “Back at Uni I play as a centre-forward or second striker, so I don’t really even consider myself a defender by trade. I’d even be ready to play as a No9 here if [USA coach] Steve [Swanson] asked me to,” she joked.

“But to be honest, I’m happy where I’m playing here too. I’ve got plenty of space to move into, I can create goals and start moves. Playing as this kind of full-back makes me feel like an attacking midfielder at times,” added Dunn, who cited the USA senior side’s all-time record scorer Mia Hamm, as her biggest footballing idol.    

The signs do not point to Swanson deploying Dunn up front just yet, however, particular as the US defensive line appears to growing more solid and balanced with each passing game. What is more, the option gives the Stars and Stripes extra pace out wide and allows the use of stronger and somewhat taller girls in the centre of defence.

“I’m pretty short all right, but that’s becoming less and less of an obstacle for me. In fact, I’m even winning the odd header!” said Dunn, who measures in at 1.57m, with a grin. “But I think our defence is working as it is, we complement each other. And if the centre-backs aren’t able to clear a ball in the air, I often end up sweeping up on the ground, because I’m faster on my feet.”

New sensations
Furthermore, there are additional advantages to having Dunn in the side, over and above her versatility. Currently enjoying her third trip to a FIFA finals, she also contributes valuable experience and, no less importantly, a healthy sense of humour. Though far from one of the loudest members of the squad, Dunn’s colourful slang often reduces her squad-mates to fits of laughter, while she is not averse to a lively dance routine or two to lift dressing-room morale. “I’ve got a weird dream that one day I’ll end up being one of Beyonce’s backing dancers,” she said, in a video recently posted on the U.S. Soccer Federation website.

Before that day comes, the bubbly all-action defender has business to attend to here at Japan 2012, in the shape of winning the world title. And the US girls will feel they have taken an important step towards that goal when they beat Korea DPR in the last eight, particularly as it was the North Koreans that pipped them to the global crown at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2008.

“It was a really great feeling to be able to beat them this time,” said Dunn, before looking back at that runners-up finish in her first FIFA final tournament. “The defeat we suffered in 2008 was gut-wrenching.”

Awaiting coach Swanson’s young charges in the last four are Germany 2010 runners-up Nigeria, who at this event two years ago knocked out USA in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals.

“It’s going to be very tough, because they’re quick, strong and skilful – so we’ll have to be very smart to neutralise those qualities,” said Dunn, as the interview concluded. “But this tournament is certainly bringing back a lot of memories. I just hope that the end result is different and goes our way this time.”