U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team defender Crystal Dunn has been a member of the U.S. Youth National Team program since the Under-15 Girls’ National Team. Dunn participated at the 2008 CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship and the 2010 CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship as one of the youngest members of both teams. This time around, she is one of the U-20 veterans and she took time to speak with ussoccer.com about becoming a leader and what life has been like moving from her native New York to college at North Carolina.
How has the run-up to the 2012 CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship been for you?
Crystal Dunn: “The last two years have been pretty much like any other World Cup cycle. We have camps that meet once a month and it’s a selection process again, trying to see which girls fit in with which other group of girls, so it’s a whole process over again.”
During the last couple cycles, you were one of the youngest and now you’re one of the veterans. Have you embraced that role?
CD: “It is a change, I would say, because I feel like I really do have to lead by example. When I was a younger player I kind of had to prove myself. I still have to do that this year but it’s just from a different perspective and now I feel like if the young girls have a question or have any doubts about anything, I think it’s my role to be there to calm them down and reassure them on certain things.”
Has anyone come to you nervous about the first game?
CD: “Not really nervous, I think everyone is just pretty much excited, which they should be. It’s a really great environment and I’m actually looking forward to it. This is going to be my third CONCACAF qualifier so I’m excited about it. If anyone has little questions about anything, like how the environment is and things like that, I tell them basically that the fans are going to be loud and there are going to be a lot of cheering against you and they should look forward to it. It shouldn’t scare them at all.”
This is your third time through, like you said. How do you feel when you pull on the U.S. jersey?
CD: “Every qualifier has been a different experience for me. With the U-17s, it was my first World Cup qualifier so I was so excited and I didn’t know what to expect. And then, with the 20s, I was one of the youngest and I was playing with so many older, great players. Now I’m actually one of the older players and it’s just a different experience. I try to treat every experience like it’s a different one because it is. It’s a different group of girls and I’m looking forward to it like I did the other times that I played.”
What is it like playing at North Carolina?
CD: “I love it so much. Anson [Dorrance] is great. He has a lot of experience and he’s been a National Team coach. He’s coached the greatest players to play the game and I feel like it’s definitely rubbing off on me. I’m just taking in all of his insight. Some of his training habits are really just helping me improve as a player and it’s a different feeling though, because I’m a college player now and I’m not playing with high schoolers and people like that, I’m playing with older girls on a daily basis. I’m really excited about it and I’m super excited to be there.”
Can you tell us a little bit about the final stretch of training before coming down to Panama for the qualifying tournament?
CD: “Basically we had a camp in January, it was two weeks in Chula Vista, Calif., and it was so long but it was very much needed because we were a new team and we needed to really get the feel of each other and get some of the nicks out that we had. It was a great experience, definitely. Then we went to La Manga [Spain] about two weeks ago and we played Switzerland, Germany and Norway and they were great competition. We played well together as a team and I think that really boosted our confidence because coming off of playing those three great teams that already qualified. We definitely felt good as to where we were with a new team and new formation and things like that.”
Last time around, when you were the youngest, of course the older players would joke around with you. Do you now joke around with some of the younger players?
CD: “It’s all fun and games. It’s not like the older players pick on the younger players, it’s more them making fun of us than anything! We’re a huge family so we have fun with each other and it’s like joking around with your young sister for doing something silly and making fun of her later. It’s a great atmosphere, I can’t ask for anything more. We’re all equals in this group so there really is no ‘younger vs. older’ or ‘older vs. younger.’ I think we’re all equals on the field. Off the field, it’s the same thing.”
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
CD: “I do. I have an older brother. He plays baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization in the minors. His name is Henry Dunn.”
So you come from an athletic family? Did your parents play?
CD: “No, they did not. That’s what always gets people. My parents did not play any sports but they really encouraged their kids to play, which is something I really do appreciate from that perspective because they didn’t play sports so they could have easily said, ‘we didn’t do it, don’t do it.’ It did help, though, having a sibling that was at least involved in athletics because he was always trying to get me to train.”
You saw your brother go off and do his baseball thing, then you went from New York to North Carolina. How was that transition? What was it like leaving home?
CD: “I will say playing with the National Team has really opened me up to different environments because now when I leave New York I don’t get upset about it. I don’t get homesick anymore. I see my family from time to time and it’s really great when I see them, but when I’m away, I know I have their support and that’s pretty much all I need. They’re actually going to be here in Panama so I’m excited to see them. North Carolina is really no different from New York. The people are nice; you meet nice people, you meet mean people, it’s a combination of everything.”
Do you have any superstitions before games or before a tournament?
CD: “I’m really not a superstitious person but I believe that if our team has rituals, I really condone that everyone does their own thing and gets in their own mindset because everyone prepares differently. If you’re the type that listens to loud music, go for it. I kind of like listening to music non-stop. I like to dance, I like to sing. I’m just that type of person. I’ll probably be as lively as I can be before a game just to get myself ready and maybe get other people ready if they’re kind of nervous or anything.”
What’s it like having players you’ve played with since the U-17 level and how do you work with players who are going through this for the first time?
CD: “It’s great having them here because we’ve been through so much together and now we’re meeting up again. It’s great having new players and it’s also great to have some familiar faces.”
What is your favorite band, group or singer?
CD: “I’m a Beyoncé fan, for life. That is my girl. She’s so talented. I’ve listened to her since Destiny’s Child. Destiny’s Child was definitely my No. 1, top group to listen to, but Beyoncé is definitely the star and I love her so much.”
What is your favorite Beyoncé song?
CD: “Now, my favorite song is ‘Countdown.’ Her new album is really good and ‘Countdown’ is super fun. It’s lively and I like really fast, up-paced dancing music.”