Crystal Dunn of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team has not only fared much better than their male counterparts in international play, it is also more diverse.

Three women of color are members of the team that will travel to Paris next week for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the defending champions from 2015 are favored to keep the crown.

A fixture as a defender, Crystal Dunn has made 84 appearances with the women’s national team and scored 24 goals. USWNT coach Jill Ellis describes her as “versatile and ruthless.”

Four years ago, Dunn was the final player cut from the team that would win the World Cup. She has a chip on her shoulder and is ready to produce.

While she did not tally a goal in her team’s final tune up before the World Cup – a 3-0 victory over Mexico at Red Bull Stadium in New Jersey on Sunday – Dunn was a one-woman highlight film who excelled at offense even though she is a defender.

“I’ve always been told to put my own twist on the outside back role,” Dunn told reporters following the game.

“I just make it my own, and I think for me it’s just about trying to impact the game from that position and getting myself in pockets and being able to create whatever I can to help the team succeed in the attacking role.”

She was also brutally honest when asked if she loves being a defender.

“No, of course I don’t. I'm an attacking-minded player, but I know that that is my role on this team and I fall in love with being the best that I can be. If that means they need me to be an outside back that's going to limit chances 1-v-1 defending, then of course I'm in love with the grind and always just being at my best every day.”

A native of upstate New York, Dunn won the 2012 NCAA Championship with North Carolina. She was the 2012 Hermann Trophy winner, which is presented to the nation’s best player. She also led the U.S. Under 20 team to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan title.

Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was born in Salina, Kansas, and quickly grew taller than many of her classmates. She was introduced to YMCA volleyball, but “I didn’t like having to stay in your space.”

Basketball and soccer became her favorite sports and a random practice as goalie began her prolific career that has led to Paris and the World Cup. She is also the starting goalie for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns FC.

Franch made her USWNT debut March 2nd in a 2-2 draw against England and this will be her first World Cup appearance. She is slotted third behind goalies Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris.

She is the first Oklahoma State University player to make the USWNT and, while competing in the Big 12 Conference and in the NCAA, she registered 36 shutouts — the sixth most in NCAA history.

Forward Jessica McDonald, 31, is making her first World Cup appearance after playing professional soccer for more than a decade for six teams. She never gave up on her dream of playing for the USWNT and has made seven appearances and scored a pair of goals.

“I wanted to be able to tell my son 7-year-old son Jeremiah that I went for it,” she said.

“I want him to be proud of mom.”

She was named to the team in November 2016 and she stars with the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL.

While she did not play in the 3-0 win against Mexico, Ellis said fans should look for her at some point during World Cup competition.

“Jess, she’s a weapon,” Ellis said, “and we’re going to make sure we know how to use her.”

McDonald is hard to miss when she is playing because of her outstanding physique.

“Strength training has definitely helped improve my game,” McDonald told the website BarBend. “Since I’m older, I have to up keep my body in a different way than a younger player. Strength training has helped me with longevity. I feel quicker and stronger than I have before.”

The USWNT, which also beat New Zealand 5-0 in a match in St. Louis this month, will compete in Group F, which features Thailand, Chile and Sweden. It opens against Thailand at 2 p.m. Tuesday June 11 at Auguste Delaune Stadium in Reims. The USA then faces Chile at 11 a.m. on June 16 at Parc des Princes in Paris and takes on Sweden at 2 p.m. on June 20 at Stade Océane in Le Havre.

Much loved, way under paid

Because of its international success and World Cup titles (1991, 1995, 2015), the USWNT is far more popular than the men’s team – which failed to make the World Cup field in 2018.

It seems unthinkable, but the team will enter the 2019 World Cup competition while locked in another struggle. Several team members are part of a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay.

St. Louis native and USWNT star Becky Sauerbrunn and 27 other players have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in federal court. The players contend that the Federation and its leaders have engaged “in a pervasive pattern of gender-based employment discrimination,” which the players say is most glaringly apparent in the form of wage disparities.

According to the lawsuit, “In certain situations, the complaint contends, USWNT players earn just 38 percent of what USMNT players earn.”

“It was a tough a decision,” Sauerbrunn told The Guardian about the timing of the lawsuit.

“We didn’t want people to think we were distracted by it going into the World Cup. But it was also time-sensitive so we really had no choice in the matter. We also know that we are professionals – we are very capable of multitasking but we are 100 percent focused on winning the World Cup and this is something we can pursue afterwards.”

Sauerbrunn was a plaintiff in an original suit filed in 2016. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could not resolve the issue and the players were eventually granted the right to sue U.S. Soccer – but had just 90 days to file.

The American women are not alone in this financial plight. Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg, the reigning FIFA women’s player of the year, is not competing in the World Cup over unequal treatment of the women’s team there.

The Reid Roundup

The St. Louis Blues were down 1-0 to the Boston Bruins after the disappointing 4-2 loss on Memorial Day evening. If they lose Wednesday night, is the series over? Ordinarily, I’d say yes. But the 2019 Blues aren’t an ordinary team … Speaking of ordinary, that’s the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone in the front office was a genius and all the players were great when the team was 20-10 and held the best MLB record. As of Tuesday, they were 26-26 and closer to the NL-Central last place Cincinnati Reds than the first-place Chicago Cubs … The Cubs arrive in St. Louis for a three-game series on Friday. Prediction: The Cardinals sweep the Cubs and get right back in the division race … On Monday, there were 100 days until the first game of the NFL’s 100th season. It will be interesting to see how the league honors its pioneer African American players, coaches and front office members … Golden State is just a 1-point favorite in Thursday night’s opening game of the NBA Finals in Toronto. Yet, the two-time defending champions are heavy favorites to three-peat … Highly sought-after recruit R.J. Hampton announced on ESPN on Tuesday that he will skip college and play for the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League … By not making the All-NBA team, Bradley Beal lost an opportunity at a supermax contract – making it easier for the Washington Wizards to deal him away … Latest rumors have Beal to the L.A. Lakers in a trade that would involve Lonzo Ball and Beal going to Boston and fellow St. Louis native Jayson Tatum heading to Washington in a package deal that would include 2019 draft picks…

Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.

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