Crystal Dunn is finally ready to show the world who she really is.
The U.S. Women's National Team star followed the much-travelled path of a young athlete early in her career: she kept her head down, her opinions mostly to herself, and worked as hard as possible without causing too much of a fuss.
But there is a newfound confidence in Dunn, one that justifiably stems from establishing herself as one of her country's most important players while also becoming a greater voice for social change off the pitch.
As Dunn has become one of the foundational pieces of the USWNT ahead of this week's SheBelieves Cup, she has grown more empowered to speak out without fear of retribution. The Dunn of the past would have politely said that she is happy to help the national team in any way she can, including playing in a makeshift left-back role.
But that was then.
In an interview with Forbes last month, Dunn made it patently clear that she is not happy with the defensive position she has been occupying with the USWNT in recent years.
An attacking midfielder by trade, Dunn was shoehorned into the back line by former boss Jill Ellis and, for the most part, she has stayed there under current coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“The Forbes article I feel like was the coming out party of kind of a new Crystal Dunn,” the 28-year-old said this week. “There is a side to me that's not always smiley, always dancing. And I think it was just time to let that loose.”
Dunn has, in a way, become a victim of her own proficiency. With surprisingly few hiccups, Dunn has transitioned seamlessly into her new role, particularly during the team’s successful run in winning the 2019 World Cup.
On a team lacking a true standout at left-back, Dunn is now the team’s clear-cut top option at the position – even if she would prefer that not to be the case.
“I've always given a very soft answer of, ‘Yeah I don't like playing left-back, but I'm a team player,’” Dunn said. “And all of that is so true. At the end of the day, I would play whatever [position] to represent my country, if that means playing outside back, then I’m game.
“But I think it's also important people realize what I deal with on a daily basis is very much different than most players. I transform into a different player basically when I am in this environment because I know my role is different. When I go to [my] club, I am almost feeling like more of myself.”
Being more of herself is not limited to speaking out about her role on the field. For Dunn, that has also entailed becoming a champion of Black women on and off the pitch.
Another eye-raising element of the Forbes interview was Dunn’s declaration of her desire to be seen as the face of women’s soccer in the United States. As she tells it, that statement was less about her and more about the role that Black players have occupied in the sport over the years.
“The comments I made in the article were more geared towards the idea that I think the face of women’s soccer today still is a white woman,” Dunn explained. “I think that we have to get over the idea that it is the only face that should be the representation of this sport.
“For me, it doesn’t even have to be me. But I think that I am the one to push those boundaries and say we need to change the narrative that only white women play this sport, that only white people play this sport.
“I want to be very clear that whether it is me who is ever considered a face of women’s soccer, that really isn’t my goal. My goal is for Black women coming after me, that they even have a chance to be the face of this sport.”
If Dunn continues performing like she has, she will have the opportunity to be a voice for Black players for years to come. With the USWNT though, she may have to settle for being that voice while playing a position she is less than thrilled about.
Just do not expect her to be silent about it anymore.
“I think people need to know that I'll do what it takes to be on the field, even if that means that I am not particularly happy inside,” Dunn said.
“But I do think of the bigger picture and the bigger picture is winning an Olympic gold medal, wanting to be a part [of the team], and being impactful on the field. If that’s at left-back, then that’s at left-back.”