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Vlatko Andonovski praises Crystal Dunn in return to USWNT

(Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Three months after giving birth to Marcel Soubrier on May 20, Crystal Dunn was called into the United States women’s national team camp ahead of the friendlies against Nigeria in September.

The 2021 Concacaf Player of the Year last wore the crest almost a year ago, playing two friendlies against Paraguay in September 2021. While Dunn isn’t officially on the roster that will take the field against Nigeria on Sept. 3 and 6 in Kansas City and Washington, D.C., she’ll attend the camp as a training player. Dunn is currently going through a similar process with her club team, Portland Thorns FC, where she’s returned to training but has not yet appeared in a match.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski believes the 2019 World Cup champion will see the field for the national team before the end of the year.

“What those minutes are going to look like, I cannot be more precise because we need to see where Crystal is right now when she comes into camp,” he said. “So far, we know that she’s ahead of schedule. She’s doing very well and it’s important for her to start integrating back into the environment because now she will have a little bit different challenges outside of playing soccer and we’re all excited for it.”

A lot has changed for the national team in the year that Dunn has been away. Since November, Andonovski has built a young team with many new faces who have integrated with some veterans and taken the place of others. The coach invited Dunn to camp largely to give her the opportunity to develop relationships with the newer players.

“Crystal is someone that will be a very, very important player for us going forward if she can get back anywhere close to her best because of how good she is on the field, but also her experience and leadership qualities off the field will be important for the younger group that we have,” Andonovski said.

Dunn has known those off-field expectations for some time. Since going on maternity leave, she’s been in contact with the national team regularly, as often as every two weeks.

“I’ve always taken a lot of pride in being a great teammate,” she told Just Women’s Sports in June. “I’m super supportive. I think now, I’m almost 30 years old, so I’m going to take on a little bit more of a mentorship role.”

On the field, she’s just as ready to fight for minutes. Most recently a fullback with the USWNT, she’ll have to reclaim her role over newer players like Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta who have been making a case for themselves at outside back.

“I feel like I have to believe in myself to get back to that level and I know I can,” Dunn said. “When I am back, yeah, the coach is going to have to make tough decisions and I feel like that’s OK. I always welcome competition. I’m a competitor. But I’m also somebody who has always felt like I believe in myself and I believe in my ability.”

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