IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Crystal Dunn says the U.S. women's soccer team is ready for the Olympics, but she won't rest on her laurels

Dunn says the team is positioned to win, but that win could — and should — be hard-earned.
Crystal Dunn
“I think the team is in a really good position to put our best foot forward,” U.S. women's national soccer team veteran Crystal Dunn says as the squad looks toward the Paris Olympics this summer.Andy Lyons / Getty Images file

Crystal Dunn, the veteran defender on the U.S. women’s national soccer team heading into the Olympics, says it’s about time people are taking notice of women’s sports.

“Finally,” she told NBC News on the eve of the WNBA draft. “What you see is just what happens when people pay attention. People are like, ‘Oh, women can ball.’”

The highly buzzed-about draft came after a gripping women’s NCAA basketball tournament, during which it seemed all anyone could talk about were superstar players like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese or coaches Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey. 

Crystal Dunn on NBC's "TODAY" Show on April 15, 2024.
In April, Dunn and the U.S. team prevailed over Canada at the SheBelieves tournament, which she said is helping to prepare for the Olympic Games. Nate Congleton / TODAY

Though they don’t play the same sport, Dunn and her teammates on the national team and in the National Women’s Soccer League have been tireless in their quest to make sure that women athletes are treated with equity — especially given how beloved the team has been since its iconic 1999 women’s World Cup victory. 

“I think the biggest thing is investment,” said Dunn, who plays for the New York/New Jersey Gotham Football Club during the regular season. She’s talking about the big bucks being funneled into women’s teams by other professional athletes who are betting on women. Her own team is backed by retired soccer pro Carli Lloyd, NBA player Kevin Durant, retired NFL player Eli Manning and retired WNBA great Sue Bird, who also happens to be the partner of recently retired soccer legend Megan Rapinoe.

“All of these people have achieved so much in their own sports, but at the same time are now giving back to the women’s game, and I think that’s really exciting,” said Dunn, 31.

Earlier this year, the team prevailed over Canada at the SheBelieves tournament, which Dunn said had been helpful in getting the national team gelled before heading to Paris this summer. 

“I think the team is in a really good position to put our best foot forward,” Dunn said. “I think having these tournaments under our belt has shown that we are a collective group, we know how to find ways to win, and those tournaments had some of the best opposition that we could possibly play against going into an Olympics.”

The team will continue the regular season — fellow Gotham players Tierna Davidson, Emily Sonnett and Jenna Nighswonger are also on the women’s national team — and will have another two camps before heading to Paris.

Will all the preparation help the team put up a fight against some of the emerging talent around the world? Dunn is not ready to rest on her laurels, especially after the team’s devastating World Cup loss last year.

She took the challenges the team faces as a sign of how the women’s game has been getting stronger around the world. “So many people want the U.S. to be dominant, but you know what? We truly believe that we are still at a very dominant level, but at the same time, we want the game to grow,” she said. “We want games to be competitive.”

Crystal Dunn
Crystal Dunn in a match against Brazil during the Concacaf W Gold Cup final in March. She says global tournaments have had "some of the best opposition that we could possibly play against going into an Olympics.”Carmen Mandato / Getty Images for USSF file

That growth on the global stage has translated to representation at home, too. Dunn remembers what it was like to be one of very few Black players on the field as a kid. The sport’s whiteness — in the U.S., at least — had also long been reflected at the national level. But in recent years, more players from various backgrounds are able to reach playing for the national team.

“I was that young Black girl who looked around, too, and didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me,” Dunn recalled.

She said her parents emphasized that she “belonged in any room that I stepped into.” And now Dunn, a parent herself, is about to step out onto the world’s biggest stage in sports and she wants to share that message with anyone watching from home.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it,” she said. “The way that I choose to carry myself in every game, and every moment on the field, I feel like I know I’m not just playing for just me, I’m playing for girls that look like me, and maybe for girls who are fearful of staying in the sport because they don’t feel like they’re welcomed. But I think that visibility and representation are so key.”

For more from NBC BLK, sign up for our weekly newsletter.