Crystal Dunn drives UNC women to soccer Final Four

Former defender has five goals in NCAA tournament

CorrespondentNovember 30, 2012 

Crystal Dunn

UNC's Crystal Dunn controls the ball during a game against Radford Saturday, November 10, 2012, at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C.

UNC ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

  • NCAA women’s soccer championship At Torero Stadium, San Diego Friday’s semifinals • Penn State (20-3-2) vs. Florida State (20-3), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3) • North Carolina (13-5-3) vs. Stanford (21-1-1), 11 p.m. (ESPNU) Sunday’s final Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

Crystal Dunn has put together this kind of goal-scoring streak before in her soccer career.

Two years ago, when she was named the nation’s Freshman of the Year, she tallied six goals in North Carolina’s final five games.

This year the speedy junior has broken loose again in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship, scoring in each of UNC’s past four matches, including both goals in a 2-1 double-overtime victory over No. 1 seed Brigham Young last Friday in the quarterfinals.

“I really wouldn’t put myself in the category of goal scorer,” said Dunn, who has netted all five of her goals this season in the NCAA tournament. “I usually like creating plays and setting up goals.”

But make no mistake, Dunn, a preseason All-American, has become the primary finisher since moving to central midfielder from central defender. Her offense has taken the Tar Heels to this weekend’s College Cup in San Diego.

The Tar Heels (13-5-3) will face reigning champion Stanford (21-1-1) at 11 p.m. Friday (ESPNU) as they go after their 21st NCAA title and first since 2009.

Although Dunn has won All-ACC honors as a defender three times and twice has been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, UNC coach Anson Dorrance hoped to use her in an offensive role this season. But when Dunn and teammates Kealia Ohai and Bryane Heaberlin returned in mid-September from a stint with the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan, the Tar Heels were having defensive problems.

Senior outside back Megan Brigman broke her leg in the season opener and missed the entire season. Central defender Caitlin Ball suffered a leg injury in the fourth game and was sidelined for six weeks.

“We have all these issues in the back, so we dropped her right in the middle of the defense, and of course she corrected them immediately,” Dorrance said of Dunn.

“But as you can see, at a collegiate level, we waste her in the back. Why would you ever have a player with this extraordinary dribbling ability as your center back?”

Ball’s return by the end of the regular season allowed Dorrance to move Dunn to an offensive role, first at forward and later at central midfield.

“What I like about playing her there is she can take the game over,” Dorrance said. “She’s not a classic playmaking midfielder. She is a dribbling midfielder.”

To put it in terms that Carolina basketball faithful would appreciate, Dunn is more Ty Lawson than Kendall Marshall.

“But what makes it so hard for these teams is they can scout her, they can put great players on her, but they can’t stop her,” Dorrance said. “She just has this incredible dribbling ability, so we thought she can take a game over playing attacking center half. And that’s exactly what she did.”

Dunn has been at her best with the game, and the Tar Heels’ season, on the line. Her goal in the 82nd minute against Baylor in the NCAA third round tied the game at 1-1, and UNC eventually advanced on penalty kicks. Dunn created that shot for herself, driving into the penalty area and unleashing a rocket from 18 yards.

Against BYU she was the recipient of crosses from Ohai, including the golden goal in double overtime.

In a funny twist, Dunn had the assist on Ohai’s gold medal-winning goal in the 1-0 win over Germany in the U-20 World Cup.

“Me and K have been playing together for so long now,” Dunn said. “She’s great player and makes me better every day pretty much. She looks for me, and I look for her. I have so much faith in her, and it makes it so much easier for us on the field.”

And this is no coincidence: Dunn and Ohai are among the five finalists for U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year and the 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy as college player of the year.

If given a preference, Dunn said she would prefer to play an outside midfield position.

“I think I would relate to it more, especially in the 3-4-3,” she said of the formation UNC utilizes. “That fits my personality better, taking people on. In the center midfield you don’t have as much time. Being on the flank would be more suitable for me.”

However, she has grown more comfortable at center midfield with each game.

“Playing in front of Amber Brooks is easy,” Dunn said of UNC’s All-ACC defensive midfielder. “She’s so solid, if I make a mistake I know she’s there to cover for me.

“I think it helps us because teams are going to mark our best players. It takes some of the pressure off our front line and will help us down the road.”

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