Soccer

Reigning NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn still evolving ahead of Olympics

Reigning NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn still evolving ahead of Olympics

Crystal Dunn is the reigning National Women’s Soccer League MVP, but to call the Washington Spirit forward’s game a finished product is to ignore the enormity of her potential. 

At just 23 years old -- and fresh off a 15-goal NWSL campaign -- Dunn’s ceiling is as high as any player in women’s soccer.

“I did have a chip on my shoulder last year,” Dunn admits of her motivation after being left off last summer’s U.S. World Cup team. “But this year is just about being an overall complete player.”

“I think passing is actually probably the weakest element of my game,” Dunn acknowledged. “So for me having four assists already this year, I’m excited about that."

Dunn’s four assists are not only a career-high, but second-most in the NWSL behind only U.S. Women’s National Team star Tobin Heath. With opponents concentrating much of their defensive effort on Dunn, those around her are beginning to benefit.

“She’s been very impactful this year,” said Spirit Head Coach Jim Gabarra. “She hasn’t gotten the goals she’s had [in the past] but she draws so much attention it creates so many opportunities for other players.”

While Dunn’s improved distribution has indeed helped propel the Spirit to a 5-1-2 start, it will also help preserve her place in the ultra-competitive national team pool. With a limited 18-woman roster for the upcoming Olympics, players with versatility will almost certainly have a leg up when U.S. Coach Jill Ellis has to make final roster decisions.

“It’s something the national team has asked us to help her with,” Gabarra said of Dunn’s passing.  “She’s going to get better and I think she’s going to adjust to playing a little different style than she played last season.”

Dunn has yet to score an NWSL goal in 2016, but her eight international goals since January 1st suggest the University of North Carolina product’s scoring touch is still very intact.

“I'm prepared for anything,” Dunn says when asked about her potential role at the Olympics. "I’ve been told I’m going to play wide. I actually played the ten for a couple minutes [in a recent friendly against Japan]. My role is just to be ready when the coach needs me - and whatever she asks of me, hopefully I can deliver."

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

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USA Today Sports Images

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

The Washington Spirit, one of nine teams in the National Women's Soccer League, will pay a visit to Audi Field later this summer.

The game versus the Portland Thorns FC is scheduled for August 25 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster and start at $31, but will also be available at the door. 

If you're looking for where to watch the Spirit take on the Thorns from the comfort of your own couch, the game will be broadcast on ESPNews starting at 7:38 pm. Dalen Cuff is set to host the pregame show, with USA Women's National Team alumnus Aly Wagner commentating alongside Jenn Hildreth, in her second season of NWSL coverage.

Considering the recent addition of the legendary Wayne Rooney and their move to the new facility, DC United has a lot to celebrate.

Audi Field, which opened in Washington D.C.'s Buzzard Point on July 9, seats 20,000 spectators. For DC United, who previously played at RFK Stadium, the capacity is a step down from the almost 46,000 seats at RFK. But for the Spirit, who call Germantown's Maryland Soccerplex their home, the audience will hopefully far outnumber the Plex's usual 3,000 to 4,000 spectators.

The Spirit have struggled this season, with an unusually high amound of draws and more losses than wins. Though fan favorite and star forward Mallory Pugh is still sidelined with a PCL sprain, the team hopes to improve their ability to close one-goal deficits and gain a sustained offensive advantage. 

Aside from the Audi Field game, the Spirit will host two more home games this season. Utah Royals FC will visit the Soccerplex on Wednesday, August 22, and Sky Blue FC will close out the Spirit's home season on Saturday, September 1. Tickets for either game at their usual field can be purchased through the Washington Spirit's website or upon entry. 

If you haven't paid attention to women's soccer since the USWNT's 2015 World Cup victory, no worries. There's no better time than the present to support women's pro sports. Regardless of the end result, Portland vs. Washington will be a great match-up to watch, and the event has already made DC sports history.

MORE DC SPORTS NEWS:

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Washington Dulles International Airport was flooded by soccer fans alike Thursday afternoon awaiting the arrival of one specific person inside the international arrivals terminal: England's all-time goalscorer Wayne Rooney. 

Over 100 fans packed the halls as the 32-year-old made his way out of the airport while posing for pictures and signing autographs. 

Rooney penned a two-and-a-half year guaranteed contract worth about $13 million, which makes him the highest-paid player in D.C. United history. 

He officially becomes available to play for the club beginning July 10, after the transfer window opens. This means his first game could potentially be against Vancouver inside the brand new Audi Field July 10. 

After greeting fans at the airport, Rooney and his camp piled into two blacks SUVs en route to Northeast D.C. 

Little did World Cup fans taking in the England-Belgium match at Wunder Garten know that they were about to be surprised by Wayne Rooney himself. 

In an appearance that lasted just over seven minutes and included a slew of selfies, short conversations and one television interview, Rooney's presence dazzled fans and left others stunned. 

One England native who is now a D.C. resident told me: "We grew up watching him (Rooney) score in the World Cup and that was really important to us. It's hard to believe he just walked through here."

As you would imagine, management at Wunder Garten was thrilled, too.  

"It was great for us because it put us on the map. For someone as famous as Wayne Rooney to come through our establishment, shake hands and hang out, that means a lot. We loved having him here and would love to have him back," said Michael Keller, a member of the bar's management staff. 

 The Englishman will have his hands full as he attempts to put D.C. United back on the map this season. 

Follow Rooney on Twitter and Instagram @WayneRooney.