'I was always brought up ... not even playing soccer, but as a person of color in society,' says Dunn. 'You always have to prove yourself.'

She always has been comfortable in her own skin, though Crystal Dunn felt she had to set the bar high because of its color.

It didn't matter where she was giving opposing goalkeepers headaches, whether it was starring for South Side High School, the Rockville Centre and Albertson soccer clubs, the University of North Carolina, in professional soccer and the U.S. women's national team.

"I played on many a team where I was the only black girl," she said. "Times have changed. There is more diversity. I was always brought up ... not even playing soccer, but as a person of color in society. You always have to prove yourself. I always thought I had to go beyond things to get great grades. When I was applying for college, even though I knew I was going to play soccer, I always knew I had to do something above and beyond and not give anyone a reason not to overlook me.

"Even now as a professional soccer player on the national team, I still carry that with me even though times have changed. I feel I'm just working on becoming the best person, the best player."

If she isn't the best player, Dunn has become the most versatile, being able to play any field position. Moreover, she has become a leader. That was never more apparent Saturday as the lone member of the national team to speak at the SheBelieves Summit in Manhattan, as part of the Breaking Barriers panel.

Dunn has experienced a whirlwind five months. In October, she helped the North Carolina Courage capture the National Women's Soccer League title and the U.S. team qualify for this summer's Women's World Cup. She got married in December and has played for the U.S., the defending world champions, in their build-up to the tournament in France, completing the SheBelieves Cup this week.

She returned to train with the Courage immediately after the Summit Saturday and was unable to comment on the U.S. national team’s gender discrimination suit filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday.

If anything, the 25-year-old has learned to put aside whatever stress that comes with the job prepping for the World Cup.

"It's always important feel confident in myself and regardless of external factors or critics," she said. "It's just important to stay true to yourself and know your value … It's going to be amazing."

Dunn learned a lot about herself as one of the final U.S. cuts prior to the 2015 World Cup. Instead of moping, she took out her frustrations on the NWSL, earning MVP honors as the leading goal-scorer.

"Four years ago I was so hard on myself. I didn't feel valuable," she said. “That was the hardest feeling. I was feeling, all my hard work at this point means nothing. Once I got out of that ... state I was like, 'I'm OK.' I went on to actually have the most successful year.

"That was a prime example of turning a not so great situation into something that's incredibly amazing. That gave me that reality check of bouncing back."

Dunn could be the most versatile women's soccer player in the world.

Program emcee and FOX Sports announcer Aly Wagner introduced Dunn: "Should I say defender, midfielder or striker?"

She built a reputation as a lethal attacking player, although she is slated to be left back in France. She did not talk about her unique situation.

"Listen, Crystal Dunn is one of the best players on that team," said ex-U.S. international Leslie Osbourne, a FOX commentator. "She's so versatile that actually it hurt her in a way because she can play anywhere. I would not change things up at this point. Three months out, she's got to be on the backline. It's about chemistry and partnerships.

“Do I think that's the best position for her? No. She needs to be closer to goal. That's where she creates her magic.”

By Michael Lewis
Special to Newsday