PARIS — Pierre Soubrier is accustomed to being a long way from Crystal Dunn Soubrier. The Portland Thorns’ head athletic trainer only gets to see his wife, the North Carolina Courage and U.S. national team star, about a quarter of the days of the year.
So the fact that Dunn has been nine time zones away instead of three for the last few weeks has only had so much of an impact.
On Friday, the distance dropped to a few feet when Pierre arrived in France for the blockbuster U.S.-France showdown at the Parc des Princes. The Toulouse native was in the stands cheering for his wife as the reigning World Cup champions played what might be remembered as the biggest non-final game in tournament history.
And there was no question he would cheer loudly throughout the Americans’ 2-1 win over France, sending the U.S. on to the World Cup semifinals and knocking out the host team. Dunn played a critical role in the match that required superior defensive focus with France controlling possession.
“In this specific game there’s just no doubt,” Soubrier told Pro Soccer USA in an interview before flying from Portland to Paris. “My family is behind [Crystal] and everybody wants Crystal to succeed. … We’ll always follow the French national teams, but in this specific game, obviously, it’s family over country any day.”
Pierre said he and Crystal didn’t talk much about the World Cup much before he left.
“I just don’t need to add extra pressure,” he said. “My role is to try to also keep her grounded as best as possible and just not get caught in anything else. If I start to talk about it too much, then I’m just adding to the fire.”
Nor was there much said when Dunn got the phone call from U.S. coach Jill Ellis confirming she was headed to the World Cup. After Dunn was left off the 2015 USWNT roster, Dunn spent years honing her craft and earning her spot on the 2019 roster.
Soubrier could tell how much it meant, though.
“Maybe in conversation you could feel a relief,” he said. “But deep down, you knew she was confident. You know she’s been on her game. She’s been starting, she’s been healthy, she’s been doing great things with the Courage.”
Soubrier was an outside back in his playing days. That makes his emotional investment in Dunn’s play even more personal. She has been an attacking midfielder during her club career, but Ellis determined she was needed at left back and Dunn has embraced the defensive role.
France tried to put pressure on her throughout the quarterfinal, but Dunn answered the call every time.
“I get pretty involved, not with her, but involved inside of myself,” Pierre said. “She’s been thrown in this position, and obviously the game has evolved. I’m nowhere close to what they do now. But I have a sense of the visuals of what you see as an outside back.”
Soubrier knew the French squad would be a formidable test, but he also knows what usually happens when the U.S. team gets challenged: the Americans roar right back. Though there are plenty of questions about USWNT tactics and skills, there are none about the players’ fire in their stomachs. Look no further than Megan Rapinoe and Ellis’ command performances from the press conference podium Thursday afternoon in Paris.
“You don’t come into the U.S. program and hide in the shadows; you come in and you’re in the spotlight right away,” Ellis said. “I think some teams will visit pressure, but I think we live there a lot, and I think that’s part of the pride in the history of this program that has brought us to this point.”
To which Rapinoe later added: “I think if you play a sport and if you want to be in this profession, it’s best to embrace those big moments. That’s where all the goods are.”
Soubrier has seen that firsthand in Dunn and the Thorns’ Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch.
“Everybody is after them, and everybody is about trying to bring them down, and they just build resilience to that and keep pushing through whatever adversity they’re faced with,” he said.
Ultimately, he’s just grateful to be able to watch the rest of his wife’s World Cup run in person, cheering her on in his home country.
“I’ve just been waiting for the moment I could get on the plane and go give her a little extra boost out there,” he said.