Crystal Dunn Talks Adapting to 'on the Move' Lifestyle of Professional Athletes: 'I Hit a Wall'

Crystal Dunn is part of Mastercard's new partnership with the National Women's Soccer League

Crystal Dunn
Crystal Dunn. Photo: Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty

COVID-19 social distancing guidelines helped Crystal Dunn come to a clear conclusion: she needed to be home with her husband — and their chickens — more.

The U.S. Women's National Team soccer champ married Pierre Soubrier in 2018, shortly before he took a job in Portland, Oregon. Dunn, 28, had been playing with the NWSL's North Carolina Courage up until earlier this year, keeping the couple apart.

"I think distance is one thing, but my husband and I were living completely on the opposite coasts and it got really challenging," she tells PEOPLE while chatting about the league's new partnership with Mastercard. "I think, at the end of 2020, we were like, 'Listen, enough is enough.' We value companionship. We value really just seeing each other and family. And sometimes if that is more important than just work. And I'm really grateful that the Thorns organization was able to get me here."

Dunn was part of a blockbuster trade that landed her in Portland, where Soubrier works as the head athletic trainer. Now the two have a homebase where they're finally living together.

"I feel finally settled in my life," Dunn says of her move. "I think that is the lifestyle of professional athletes, you're on the move. You're on the go. You probably sometimes don't live with your partners. And I did that lifestyle for about four years, and I just hit a wall. I think I'm at a point in my career where I think that I can do both now, have my family and also be able to compete for championships."

Part of Dunn's growing prominence in the NWSL now includes a partnership with Mastercard, which just announced a new multi-year deal with the league to make them one of their national sponsors. It's a welcome investment in the still-growing league heading into its ninth season.

"I'm so happy that Mastercard is joining the NWSL. I think their commitment to really grow this game is so incredible and so much needed," Dunn says. "I think what we're finding now is major brands wanting to get involved, and they see the value of these players and of this league. And so I'm just really happy and excited. We're at a place where a major company like Mastercard understands that and understands the values, and wants to create an inclusive and diverse fan base."

Crystal Dunn
Fletcher Wold/ISI Photos

That diverse fan base is important for Dunn, who is one of the minority Black players on the World Cup-winning national team.

The athlete previously questioned why sponsors solely focused on her white teammates for the faces of their brands, and she hopes Mastercard choosing her to represent them is a turning point in changing the image of women's soccer.

"I look at soccer, and it is a global, universal sport. It's played in every single country. And yet, I feel like in the U.S., it is still looked at as a majority white," she explains. "I think that's really what I'm trying to change. I'm starting to feel a little bit more confident in myself to be able to speak out and use my platform and call people out on the idea of, 'Hey, this should be a diverse sport. It should be inclusive, and it should be everyone's sport.' "

"I think partnering with Mastercard will allow me to really use my platform and to promote that message, and get fans excited to see more diversity on the field as well," she continues.

Dunn is one of the mainstays on the national team after years of training and improving to become a starter. She hopes to be an inspiration for Black players after her, and a source of comfort she didn't have when she started on the team.

"I'm really blessed that I'm in this position where the younger black players are able to come to me and really just share any concerns that they have because I know when I was a young player on the national team, I didn't have that," she says. "I had to figure it out on my own. I didn't really have someone to reach out to when I felt uncomfortable or insecure in any way, shape, or form. And I think now that I am in a position where I can be that for other women of color, it's really, really incredible."

Next on the USWNT agenda? The Tokyo Olympics, which they qualified for in early 2020. They hope to avenge their quarterfinal loss at the 2016 Games, the earliest the team had ever been knocked out of an international tournament.

"We are not taking our foot off the gas," she says of training of the Olympics, which are still planned for later this summer. "We are very much preparing as if it is for sure on. I think there are probably some concerns amongst people [that it could be canceled], but right now we are very much prepared, ready to go. Obviously, once the roster is named, we are in full throttle."

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