Crystal Dunn has a night for the ages against Puerto Rico

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by TOM SLATER

It was just last summer that Crystal Dunn was on the bubble of making the roster for the United States Women’s National Team as it searched for its first World Cup title since 1999.

And she was being looked at as a defender, no less.

What a difference nine months makes.

Dunn had an evening for the ages Monday night,  scoring five times in an easy 10-0 win over Puerto Rico in the team’s final Olympic Qualifying Bracket A match in Frisco,  Texas. Dunn, only one of three regular starters in the lineup, tied a record with her five-goal outbjurst. She joins six other US players – Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux – in her country’s record books.

Her two goals late – in the 85th and 87th minute – put her atop the scoring charts. However, it was not quantity for Dunn — it was quality. There were no soft goals here, despite the weak opponents. All five had nice setups and required a bit of skill and an educated shot. She also benefitted by plying a more central spot on the field, giving her more room up front and strong angles to create shots.

Her first goal may have defined her night. Teammate Mallory Pugh played creator with a strong run down the left side. Her square ball was slightly behind Dunn, but the forward handled it deftly. She spun and put a quick touch with the outside of her foot, creating space enough to roll a hard shot to the lower right corner.

Her fourth goal was the result of some nifty passing. Samantha Mewis was at the top of the box and sent a strong pass to Meghan Klingenberg at right wing. Klingenberg one-touched a perfect serve to Dunn on the far post. Dunn made no mistake with a hard volley into the open net.

If not for Dunn’s record night, it would have been a true coming out party for Pugh, who became the youngest United States player to start an Olympic Qualifying match. Pugh assisted one goal, created a penalty kick for Carli Lloyd with a strong run into the box, forcing two Puerto Rican defenders to collapse on her and eventually foul her. Pugh was responsible for an own goal on an attempted cross to Alex Morgan as the ball went off defender Ashley Rivera and into the net.

But statistics aside, Pugh was the engine that ran the United States offense. Where coach Jill Ellis looks for the ability to solve problems caused by the opponent, Pugh had all the right answers last night. Her strong runs and ability to break down defenses off the dribble allowed the Americans to solve a packed-in defense early and opened the scoring deluge.

Other notes on the night:

Mewis played a full 90 minutes and scored her first international goal in stoppage time. She had few chances earlier, including a wide-open shot from the top of the box in the second half. Mewis made a 20-yarrd run with the ball from midfield, beat two defenders and blasted a shot just outside the box.

Kelley O’Hara scored her second international goal to end the first half. And it was quite the finesse shot. With a serve fromon the ground but a step behind her, O’Hara used a slick heel-flick to beat goalkeeper Karly Gustafson.

Lloyd scored on a penalty kick but made it an other adventure. She lined the kick and roofed iin the corner that connects the crossbar and right post. The shot, hit with some pace, bounced straight down over the line as Lloyd exhaled. This penalty followed her goal against Mexico where her penalty was saved by keeper Cecelia Santiago but she put the rebound back in for the winner.

The United States now travels to Houston for an 8:30 p.m. (EST) match Friday against the runner up from Group B.  That opponent will be decided today. Canada will host Costa Rica in the other semifinal.  Both matches can be seen  live on NBCSN.