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Tar Heels in the Pros: former UNC women's soccer player Crystal Dunn excels as a Portland Thorn

Crystal Dunn passes the ball during the Portland Thorns' game against Racing Louisville at Providence Park in Portland, OR on June 5, 2021. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Thorns FC

Entering her junior year, former UNC women’s soccer star Crystal Dunn’s recruiting class hadn’t yet won a national championship, and she took that to heart.

"We have a tradition of winning national championships consistently," head coach Anson Dorrance said. "For us not to win while she was there was ridiculous, because she was absolutely an elite player."

In the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Dunn's golden goal in the quarterfinals against BYU, assist in the semifinals against Stanford and assist late in the title game against Penn State helped UNC women’s soccer capture its most recent national title.

Dunn, who played for the Tar Heels from 2010 to 2013, is one of the most high-profile athletes to come out of Chapel Hill within the past decade. With her 2021 CONCACAF Women’s Player of the Year award after her past season with the Portland Thorns and a 2019 World Cup win with the U.S. Women’s National Team, Dunn’s success at the professional level parallels her time at UNC.

“There’s a kid that leaves our environment as the best player, and goes into the next environment, and what happens?” Dorrance said. “She becomes the best player.”

During her years at UNC, Dunn played everywhere, with starts on defense, midfield and as a forward. After being named Soccer America Freshman of the Year, she earned a world title in 2012 with the U-20 national team at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.

Dunn’s collegiate career is proof of her flexibility and acumen as a player. Dunn is unique in her ability to excel in any position on the field, and that versatility is key to her success.

Dunn was the first pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, being selected by the Washington Spirit.

But after being passed up for the 2015 USWNT World Cup roster, she spent the next four years vying for roster placement.

“I think from 2015 to 2019 was all about finding my joy in this game again and finding a reason to want to compete again and be the best version of myself every single day,” she said.  

In 2018 with the North Carolina Courage, Dunn stood out on a star-studded roster with the likes of Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald. The team brought home the NWSL Championship and the NWSL Shield titles after a 3-0 win against the Portland Thorns in the finals. 

According to Merritt Mathias, Dunn’s former teammate on the Courage, the team’s snowball success in the 2018 season would not have been possible without Dunn. 

"For 2018 to go the way that it did, which was a historic year in the NWSL and for that team, I think it speaks to just the mindset of the players that were there, the mindset of someone like Crystal,” Mathias said.

Four years after being the last cut from the 2015 USWNT World Cup roster, Dunn’s appearance at left back in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup showcased her paramount success on one of the largest stages in women’s soccer. 

“Being able to hoist the trophy up at the end, it really just made me feel like I went through everything I went through for a reason,” Dunn said of winning the 2019 World Cup. “And that all the sacrifices that I’ve made really mattered and it added up and ultimately allowed me to reach the goal in the end.”

Since the 2019 Women's World Cup, Dunn hit the milestone of 100 caps and earned a bronze medal with the U.S. team at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. 

Dunn was traded to the Portland Thorns in 2020, which allowed her to spend more time with family. Dunn's husband Pierre Soubrier works as a trainer for the Thorns. In November, Dunn and Soubrier announced that they were expecting their first child.

Even as Dunn takes time off to spend with her family, soccer is still on her mind. This past spring, approaching the end of her third trimester of her pregnancy, Dunn still practiced and completed drills with the team with less contact and impact play. She gave birth to her first son, Marcel, with husband Pierre Soubrier on May 20. 

“After the Olympics, I definitely saw a window for me to start a family. It worked out with the timing, and my husband was on board obviously.” Dunn said. “Next year is a World Cup, and it’s a really important year for women’s soccer, and my hope is obviously to be back in full to be ready to compete for a roster selection."


@dthsports |