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Crystal Dunn wants to set an example for athlete mothers

Crystal Dunn hopes to return to the field with Portland by late August or early September. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

These days, Crystal Dunn splits her time between soccer, naps and bopping to old Disney songs in French with her smiling 5-week-old son, Marcel Soubrier.

The mother-athlete balance is a journey the Portland Thorns star was ready for after taking a month away from work to get used to her new identity as a parent. Still, there were many challenges she couldn’t prepare for until she gave birth to Marcel on May 20.

After catching about six hours of sleep, during which she and her husband, Pierre Soubrier, take turns calming down a crying Marcel, Dunn begins her day around 8 a.m. At 9:30, she leaves for the stadium to do physical therapy, catch up with teammates in the locker room, attend team meetings and watch their training sessions. In the afternoons, she returns home to look after Marcel, sometimes calling up Heather O’Reilly for parenting advice.

Dunn has been juggling parenting and soccer since June 15, as she works to return to NWSL action by late August or early September.

“It really gave me the full feel of, OK, I’m kind of back now. This is kind of cool,” Dunn told Just Women’s Sports. “I’m back as a new mother and as an athlete still. Getting into the rhythm has been really nice.”

Her return to play has been thoughtfully planned out by Portland’s high performance team, in conjunction with her doctor, pelvic floor specialists and physiotherapists.

“Crystal is, as she always does, blowing all expectations out of the water,” said Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson. “It’s exciting to watch. She can already outrun me and outlift me, which is just a testament to what an incredible athlete, but also professional, she is.”

Dunn knew this year was the right time to become a mother when she felt mental and emotional burnout in 2021. Her body needed rest in a different kind of way.

It didn’t mean the decision to become a parent was easy. She worried about the lack of support she’d get as she figured out how to find her way back to the pitch while also caring for a baby.

Women, in most fields of work, have a hard time envisioning successful careers and motherhood. For professional athletes, their body is their work, and for about a year during pregnancy and after giving birth, they’re unable to compete in top form. Being forgotten in the run of competition is a common fear.

Perhaps the most versatile player on the U.S. women’s national team, Dunn has been an instrumental part of their success in the past decade, most recently helping them win the 2019 FIFA World Cup title and 2020 Olympic bronze medal. A year from now, she hopes to play at the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The 2021 Concacaf Player of the Year won’t let the show go on without her.

The stigma around women athletes becoming mothers has motivated Dunn to partner with Modern Fertility, an organization that educates women on their bodies and their reproductive health, and provides them with resources to make the best decisions for their own journeys with motherhood.

Everybody’s path is different. To Dunn, that is the most important message for aspiring and current mothers.

“They’re understanding that you can be a parent. You can start thinking about being a mom and not sacrificing your career. You can do both. … Obviously Modern Fertility has been incredible because I just think everyone needs to be educated on their reproductive health. I think it’s something, especially as women, we’re not really taught a lot of that growing up.”

Dunn became affiliated with the organization to be a part of the conversations that will help normalize athlete pregnancy. Sydney Leroux, Kelley O’Hara, Candace Parker and other elite athletes have also partnered with the campaign.

In the NWSL, seven players have babies due this year, including Dunn’s USWNT teammates Julie Ertz, Allie Long and Casey Krueger.

“It needs to be celebrated more when women do take that journey to motherhood alongside being an elite athlete,” Dunn said. “Any way I can be involved to help push, help change that narrative that, ‘Oh, women should only kind of do this.’ Like, no, it’s 2022. Keep up, people.

“I’m not the first female athlete to be pregnant and give birth and have my career and be a mother at the same time, but I feel the more and more that we can speak out about our experiences and push for the next generation to feel like they have the option to do so as well is how you set up the future.”

Dunn didn’t think that, at nine months pregnant, she’d still be able to train with the Thorns. But there she was at practice, juggling and taking part in passing drills. The same week before she gave birth, she was doing volleys with Pierre, who’s also the Thorns’ head athletic trainer.

“My coaching staff was like, ‘Come as often as you want. We want you here.’ I think hearing that message really allowed me to feel valued,” Dunn said. “Once you’re pregnant, you know that you can’t play at the highest level anymore and so you start to feel left out. You start to feel like you’re not as valued anymore.

“I think my coaching staff and my teammates really did a good job of keeping me included. I was in the meetings, I was engaging with players all the time, and it really was exactly what I needed to step into now this new role that I’m in.”

As Dunn prepares to return to the pitch, she keeps in touch with members of the national team and has productive conversations with head coach Vlatko Andonovski every few weeks.

As the national team heads off to Mexico for the first game of World Cup Qualifying on Monday, Dunn will remain in Portland with her family.  Andonovski said in a press conference in early June that Dunn would have been on the squad had she been able to play, and there are certainly moments when Dunn wishes she could be at the Concacaf championship with her teammates.

But, as she reminds herself, being a mother is pretty darn cool, too.

“I’m exactly where I need to be right now,” she said.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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