In just her second year playing women’s professional soccer, Washington Spirit forward Crystal Dunn, 23, became the youngest player to win the National Women’s Soccer League’s Golden Boot Monday after finishing the regular season with a league-high 15 goals in 20 games. Though Dunn fell just short of the NWSL single-season record of 16 goals, scored by Seattle Reign FC’s Kim Little a year ago, she did set a new league mark with her 0.75 goals-per-game average.

Washington selected Dunn out of the University of North Carolina with the first overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft. Though she was hampered by a lingering hamstring injury last season, Dunn showed much promise as Spirit coach Mark Parsons used her in a variety of different roles, in all areas of the field.

But after being the last player cut by United States Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis from this summer’s 23-person World Cup roster – the team went on to win its historic third world championship on July 5 – Dunn has enjoyed a breakout 2015 NWSL season. The New York native’s explosive speed and incredible ball skills have made her one of the league’s most elusive players – she led the league with 47 shots on goal. And the fourth-seeded Spirit, which is scheduled to play at No. 1 Seattle Reign in Sunday night’s NWSL semifinals, has reaped the benefits.

Monday’s Golden Boot honors came on the heels of a Sept. 3 announcement that Dunn had become the first Spirit player to be named NWSL Player of the Month for August after she recorded six goals and one assist in helping Washington to a 2-1-3 record over the course of the month.

“She’s had a phenomenal second year in the league, for sure,” Spirit teammate and Canadian Women’s National Team midfielder Diana Matheson said of Dunn. “Everyone who has watched this year has seen how good she is. It was a tough year for sure for her not being on the World Cup team, that’s every player’s dream. It’s just a credit to her how she’s responded to that and took advantage of playing in this league every week and just decided to grow as a player. …She’s definitely going to get another chance with the U.S. team.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Crystal Dunn on Saturday. Here is what she had to say about rebounding from disappointment to become the league’s leading scorer and the possibility of playing in the 2016 Olympics:

When you got the call from [USWNT coach] Jill Ellis, what clicked in your mind that made you decide to move forward rather than focus on the disappointment?

Crystal Dunn (CD): I think it comes down to just who you are as a person. I’ve always been more of a happy go lucky person. And as hard as it was to accept that I kind of took the approach of, “Well, life is going to on, with disappointments, with happiness. With whatever life gives you, you’re going to be fine.” I was certain the sun was going to come up the next day. I was surrounded by such great people and I think a support system is so important and that’s what really helped me get through it.

Did you set a goal to prove how impactful you could be at this level?

CD: It’s really crazy. I never expected for me to go into this league and score 15 goals. It wasn’t my goal, I didn’t wake up and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to score 15 goals this season.” It was one of those things where I said, I’m going to go back to the basics, I’m going to tweak my game and do whatever I can to improve every day. And I think that’s what I’ve been doing. With disappointments, and with great games, I think I can learn from everything.

What have been the biggest developments in your game over the past four months?

CD: It goes back to confidence. I think me playing in a more attacking position, I’m a more free spirited person and I get to be myself. I get to express myself and that’s who I’ve always been. Playing an attacking position [I feel more free].

Do you have your sights set on the 2016 Olympics now?

CD: That’s definitely a goal of mine. All I can do is control how I perform this year and I’ve taken care of that aspect of my career. I think every game I’ve improved and for me it’s all about controlling what you can. A lot of times in this sport we over stress ourselves and try to control every little aspect of our lives. For me, it’s if the coach wants me there, the coach wants me there. Ultimately that is out of my control.

What kind of example or message do you hope to set for or send to your young fans?

CD: You’ve got to find the love of the game. When I started to wake up and fall back in love with soccer, that’s when I was happier and playing better. Six months before the World Cup roster came out, I kind of lost a sense of myself. I wasn’t as happy waking up and going to training. I kind of felt like soccer was more of a job whereas it should still feel like a hobby. I would tell kids today to find the love in it. You’ve got to enjoy it. You’re playing with your best friends. I go to work with my best friends. Literally. It’s the greatest job.

Jennifer Beekman

Spark Sports Analyst