On a nation-wide Victory Tour designed to celebrate the 23 women who brought the United States its first Women's World Cup in 16 years, leave it to the player who just missed the cut to add some fun and extra excitement.
Crystal Dunn, the 24th player on the U.S. depth chart whom coach Jill Ellis decided to not take to Canada, helped lead the U.S. women's national team to a 5-0 victory over Haiti at Ford Field on Thursday night. Carli Lloyd collected her fourth career hat trick, but equally important, Dunn provided excitement about what's in store for the U.S. women as they head towards qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
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Dunn, who made her first U.S. national team appearance since February on Thursday, promptly showed why she tore up the National Women's Soccer League this summer and was just named the Golden Boot winner for her impressive season with the Washington Spirit. Dunn had two assists and scored the final goal in the 90th minute for the U.S.
"I was pretty excited to get the call that they wanted me in camp and at first I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to join the Victory Tour.' This was the team's moment to celebrate, but I'm super excited,'' Dunn said.
Without letting the sting of disappointment take away from her impressive game this summer in the NWSL, Dunn was clearly ready for her start. She came out and immediately set up the U.S. women's first goal and second goals. Just six minutes into the match, Dunn -- playing outside mid -- worked the ball into space up the right side before crossing the ball into the box, setting up Lloyd for the score.
She then amplified her skills and tenacity when, in the 33rd minute, Dunn sent a low cross to Christen Press, who buried the shot in the net past Haiti goalkeeper Edny Limage to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead. Lloyd added the third U.S. goal in a penalty kick in the 37th minute. It was Lloyd's 73rd international goal and her 10th in the last seven games, including her historic World Cup title game hat trick.
The Dunn-Lloyd combo could be the start of a revamped offense. Picking up where the team left off in Canada, where Lloyd became the focal point of the U.S. attack, Dunn looks ready to help remake the U.S. front line with her counters and versatility. And after Press struggled a bit to find her timing during the World Cup, perhaps having a speedster assist artist like Dunn on the wing will up her scoring pace, too.
Dunn wasn't only impressive with her crosses and passing. Her strength and speed allowed her to motor into the clear to set up a few of her own shots. This was a great re-entry for Dunn, who can help stiffen a U.S. attack that will lose midfielder Lauren Holiday to retirement at the end of the year and is looking to revamp due to the diminished role for veteran striker Abby Wambach.
The all-time leading goal scorer was a late sub for the U.S., drawing a huge round of applause from the crowd as Wambach came in for Alex Morgan in the 63rd minute. Veteran Christie Rampone also came into the match, giving the U.S. five defenders as Becky Sauerbrunn moved to midfield. It all looked like a set-up to get Wambach more padding on her record tally of 184.
That didn't happen, but Holiday did set up Lloyd for her 74th career goal on a corner in the 69th minute. Lloyd headed the ball in, putting the U.S. up 4-0 and collecting her fourth career hat trick.
On a night when the U.S. was slated to face ninth-ranked Australia, Haiti served as a willing opponent in front of 34,538 at Ford Field. This was the third match of the 10-match Victory Tour and, no matter how many times it's said, the fact remains that the U.S. women's national team is a phenomenon unparalleled in sport.
Lloyd & Co. blew away history with TV ratings that climbed all through the World Cup, culminating in the average of 25.4 million viewers for the July 5 final in Vancouver. The U.S. 5-2 victory over Japan was the fifth-most watched sporting event outside the NFL, ranking behind three NCAA football playoff games and the 2015 NCAA basketball title game between Duke and Wisconsin. The fans back home are clearly eager to get a first-hand look.
The Motor City crowd on Thursday night was eager and diverse, too. Hundreds of girls and women were in attendance, but there was also loads of families, too. Men and boys were proudly wearing Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan jerseys and t-shirts. It's the kind of reception that makes star striker Abby Wambach's words ring truer: The U.S. women have again helped move the needle for soccer, not only in this country but around the globe.
The fact that the Australian women have taken a stand for better pay indicates women's national soccer teams gained some leverage through their World Cup runs. Australia made it out of the Group of Death with the U.S and Nigeria and went on to beat Brazil in the knockout round before falling to Japan.
"Part of what we were able to accomplish this summer is empowering women and what the Australian women are doing is empowering themselves and the next generation coming behind them,'' Wambach said. "We did this many, many years ago and we on the U.S. team now are reaping the rewards of the hard work of those who put their foot down and said we're not going to take this anymore.
She added: "Of course we support (Australia). It's a symbolic show of support for themselves. They did so well. When you are able to overcome your own expectations, you're able to push the needle in a way that can positively affect many people.''
While Australia fights for better pay, the U.S. women are being treated to undying hype here at home. The opening Victory Tour match in Pittsburgh drew 44,028 fans to Heinz Field. In Chattanooga, 20,535 braved stormy weather to see the U.S. women defeat Costa Rica.
"It's been amazing. Life has changed. People everywhere are recognizing me and my teammates. It's cool. It's been an unbelievable experience,'' Lloyd said.
The U.S. plays Haiti again Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama, then takes on Brazil on Oct. 21 and Oct. 25 in Seattle and Orlando, respectively.