Crystal Dunn returns to NWSL and USWNT less than 4 months after giving birth


Crystal Dunn is hoping to attend a National Women’s Soccer League game “in the next few weeks”, less than four months later give birthshe told Emox News on Sunday.

Dunn, 30, trained with the US women’s national team this week and last. Her goal, she said in a phone interview, isn’t to push for playing time — not yet, anyway — but to readjust to an environment she’s been away from since last fall. She had to meet new teammates, juggle new responsibilities, and iron out new rhythms of life. She came prepared with the best icebreaker of all, her 3-month-old son Marcel, who allayed Dunn’s fears by sleeping soundly on flights to Kansas City and Washington, DC and embarking on their first trip as a mother-son duo. quite light-footed.”

Along the way, Dunn wowed coaches and players – and other moms – with their progress on the field. Alex Morgan was “extremely impressed”. US head coach Vlatko Andonovski said before the camp he believed Dunn would return “before the end of the year”. After a week of training, he had concluded that Dunn looked “ready to play”.

An exact return date is now in the hands of Dunn and the Portland Thorns, their NWSL team, who resume a playoff chase this Friday. Head coach Rhian Wilkinson said Thursday that Dunn would be used for Friday’s game against Orlando and on the bench. If she doesn’t budge, she could debut the following Sunday (September 18) or the Wednesday after (September 21).

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Dunn is also likely to return to a field in US colors in October or November. She sought that August-September training stay to essentially make that last step smaller; learning to navigate camp as a new mom and reconnecting “mentally and emotionally” with a refreshed group of players before facing the simultaneous stress of competition.

And she enjoyed the experience. She loved sharing her “journey into motherhood” with US teammates. She found something of a routine where she handed Marcel over to her nanny an hour before she went to workout to give herself time and space to prepare to bring her body back to previous levels.

But while she’s enthusiastic and ahead of schedule, and hustles through self-doubt that occasionally stings her, she’s careful not to compare her new self to her former self. “Society puts this pressure on you: ‘Oh, you have to go back to where you were before.’ And I think that’s pretty much impossible,” she says. “Because you went through something that made you a different person, a different player.”

But different doesn’t mean worse. The standards remain high. Dunn wants to go to another world championship and win it.

“How I get there and what my path will be like is [uncertain] at this point,” she admits, in part because “the way I see the game, the way I see life, is so different.”

But this new attitude, she believes, will “make me an even better player and a better person.”

Crystal Dunn’s remarkable return

Dunn entered her pregnancy as one of the faces of USWNT, on and off the field. She was a leader within the players’ association and particularly in the labor dispute that led to equal pay. She was also a shrill voice in the dressing room, a multi-position star and the 2021 CONCACAF Player of the Year.

Even as she ventured into her third trimester, she did whatever it took to stay connected to those roles. She participated in collective bargaining with other USWNT player representatives. She participated in non-contact exercises at Thorn’s office in March and April, a month before her due date. She was so committed and so eager that Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson joked at a fans’ town hall that Dunn might try to return to the field a week after giving birth.

Crystal Dunn has not been with the USWNT since last September. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

She gave birth to Marcel in the early hours of May 20th. She didn’t quite return a week later; but a month later she was already hitting balls against a rebound net. At two months, “she felt Yes, really good,” she said. She didn’t care that a few months after giving birth her workout was “truly outrageous” in the eyes of her peers.

“And after three months,” she says, “I was already training fully with the team.”

She never expected to recover so quickly. She never set any concrete standards. She knows that “everyone’s path to recovery is unique.” She has been “rolling with the punches”, listening to her body and the guidance of Thorn’s athletic coach Pierre Soubrier – who happens to be her husband. (They met last decade when both worked for the Washington Spirit.)

By early August, her body was telling her that she would be ready soon. So she told US Soccer that she would like to return to camp. She brought her bubbly personality and enlivened warm-ups in a way only Crystal Dunn can. But she also liked coming to work.

The day after USWNT’s 4-0 win over Nigeria in Kansas City, she jumped into an intense training session with teammates who had played little or no minutes to win. Normally, she said, it would have felt like a “really tough” session emotionally and physically. Here, in the country’s capital, and now, as a soccer mom, it felt “amazing.”

While extra sprints used to bring frowns and frustration, they now bring joy and gratitude, Dunn said. When she finishes them, they are some of the many “little moments” she celebrates, memories of “smiling and enjoying doing what I love.”

“I think being away from the game for so long,” she said, “has really allowed me to rebuild in a way I never could.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help”

The most difficult aspects of negotiating USWNT’s life as a mother, Dunn said, are not just the physical demands, but also the things that outsiders might overlook — like finding time to nap.

While downtime used to be spent hanging out with teammates, she now said, “Well, it’s kind of down to the baby.” Marcel’s quirky schedule dictates hers. “Whatever he wants to do, I have to fill my time now making sure he’s taken care of,” she said.

What she learned during her first week and the first 3+ months of her motherhood is the importance of “not being afraid to ask for help.”

“I think as moms, we always want to do everything on our own,” Dunn said. Her instinct is, “Yep, I got it, I got it.” But there are times, she realizes, when the much more positive answer is, “No, I need support.” And support in the USWNT camp was plentiful.

There were teammates almost begging to watch or play with Marcel, and when Dunn needed to get food or make a phone call, she would tell them, “Yeah, that’s really nice, thank you!” When she had a team meeting, she had a nanny willing to drive Marcel around in his stroller. For example, if she had to sit in front of thousands of fans at a table surrounded by dignitaries and sign a collective bargaining agreement that will shape the future of her sport, she had to Teammate Lynn Williams, “Aunt Lynn”, holds Marcel; and other players including Ashley Sanchez to amuse him.

The support allows her to “take time for myself,” and that time, she said, is vital. She wants to “enjoy motherhood but at the same time hold on to Crystal Dunn’s identity, alongside being a mother.”

And an inescapable piece of that identity, she said, “is slowly finding my way back onto the field.” It’s football.

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