Crystal Dunn embraces union role, says USWNT won’t “settle for anything other than equality”

Crystal Dunn
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — There was a time only a few years back when just playing the game was enough for Crystal Dunn.

But a combination of factors — from the unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake last year to the pandemic to the national team’s ongoing fight for equal pay — have made Dunn intent on speaking out and taking action.

RELATED: Crystal Dunn announces pregnancy, baby due May 2022

She’s taken a role as vice president and secretary of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players’ Association and is active in negotiations for a new labor contract.

“When I was a young player on the national team, it was really hard to balance chasing my dreams, wanting to earn my right to be on this team, but at the same time, be as heavily involved as I wanted to be. I think I just matured and came into my own over time,” Dunn said. “Now I’ve been in this space where I can balance both. I can balance being a professional athlete alongside being involved making decisions that obviously are going to better the national team and women’s professional soccer across the board.”

Dunn feels it’s important to speak out as a woman of color, and to use that voice at the negotiating table. But it’s definitely taken her out of her comfort zone.

“I think at times I’ve wanted to just stay behind the scenes and kind of just do my thing, play the sport that I love without distractions and other things going on,” she said. “But I think 2020, like the rest of the world, has made us realize that it’s OK to hit pause and actually focus on other things and narrow in on other things that you’re passionate about.”

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It’s been an evolution for Dunn, 29, who was disappointed when she was among the last cuts for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Rather than mope about being left off, Dunn poured herself into her club team, the Washington Spirit, scoring 15 goals in 20 games and winning the Golden Boot award and Most Valuable Player that year.

Jill Ellis, then the national team coach, took notice and named Dunn to one of 18 spots on the 2016 Olympic team. Dunn has been a regular ever since, and was on the squad that won the 2019 World Cup final.

With the union, Dunn is having to navigate something way different from playing time. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 31.

She joins players’ association President Becky Sauerbrunn and Sam Mewis, vice president and secretary, at the negotiating table. The group has three overarching goals: Equality and fairness in compensation, respect in the form of professional working conditions and balance between club and international duties.

“Our PA is incredibly fortunate to have Crystal in a leadership position. She’s forward-thinking, a problem-solver, and so respected by everyone in our membership,” Sauerbrunn said. “Having her voice during this critical time is instrumental in our PA’s ability to protect and empower our players.”

U.S. Soccer announced in September that it was offering the women’s and men’s senior national teams identical contracts. The men’s contract expired at the end of 2018. The federation also proposed that the men and women hammer out the equitable distribution of World Cup prize money — a big sticking point.

FIFA awarded $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title.

FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 World Cup. There’s a proposal for FIFA to double the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but the event also has an increased field of 32 teams.

The men’s and women’s unions are separate. Under federal labor law, they have no obligation to bargain jointly or to agree to similar terms. The women’s union said the identical contract proposal does not provide for equal pay because the women play more games and have more training camps and other obligations.

Dunn, who plays professionally for the Portland Thorns, is hopeful a new contract can be reached by the end of the year. But it will depend on many factors: In addition to World Cup prize money, the national team’s equal pay lawsuit also hangs over negotiations.

Players sued U.S. Soccer in March 2019, contending they have not been paid equitably under their collective bargaining agreement compared to what the men’s team receives under its agreement. The women asked for more than $64 million in damages plus $3 million in interest under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A federal judge threw out the pay claim but the players have appealed the decision.

Dunn views the contract negotiations as much bigger than just addressing compensation. It’s about equality overall.

“It is a process. This is not something that happens overnight. You make a proposal, they come back and then you have to kind of find common ground or just walk away and say, ‘We’re not going to settle for this.’” Dunn said. “I think through negotiations, it’s actually been incredible to make the proper steps forward and actually raise the bar and obviously not settle for anything other than equality.”

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”