Christen Press had never experienced her big moment, that time where she was the decisive player in a big match on her way to a championship. She didn’t play in the last two games of the 2015 World Cup, she lost all three NWSL playoff games she’s participated in, she lost the only Champions League final she’s played in, and she missed the decisive penalty when the United States got knocked out of the 2016 Olympics.
Perhaps those struggles served to set her up for Tuesday night’s triumph. “I think that the most proud moments I’ve had in my career are after failures, when you kind of learn that the sun also rises and the world keeps spinning when you fail and when you succeed,” Press says.
The USWNT still has one more difficult game it must win to repeat as World Cup champions, but Tuesday’s match against England should still be remembered as the time Press finally got to have her moment. In the 9th minute of a game that no one expected her to start, Press headed in a cross to give the USWNT the lead in their World Cup semifinal, and her team went on to defeat England, 2–1.
It’s unclear if Press was even supposed to start the match. Megan Rapinoe, who has five goals at this World Cup, had to sit out with a hamstring strain. But it would have made sense to find a place for Press on the left wing anyway — England right back Lucy Bronze has been one of the best players in the tournament, and the USWNT benefited big time from having a player with Press’ athleticism to keep her in check. As soccer writer Katelyn Best puts it:
In addition to the goal I would like to point out that several moments ago Christen Press *ran* back to avoid putting Crystal Dunn in a 2-v-1 situation and running towards one's own goal is a skill that Pinoe, may god bless her and keep her, doesn't have— Katelyn Best (@BestKabest) July 2, 2019
Rapinoe should have been a massive absence for the USWNT attack, but Press filled in brilliantly. Alex Morgan thinks Press’ different style allowed them to move more fluidly.
“She was stretching the back line and she could also play that 9 (center forward) role so there was a lot of times we were interchanging, sometimes naturally, throughout the game. We didn’t have to go back to that usual position with me in the 9 and her as the 11 (left winger), we kind of just let the game take it,” Morgan says.
Press has always had the ability to be a key player for the USWNT. That she’s been able to accumulate 122 caps and 49 goals without ever having a long run as a first-choice attacker is testament to that. Her greatest sin as a player is being born into one of the best generations of forwards a single country has ever produced. There simply isn’t enough room on the field for all of Morgan, Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and the once-prolific Sydney Leroux. For most of her career, Press has been the odd one out; on top of this, she’s failed to find the back of the net when given an opportunity in a big game.
But Press played well enough for her clubs and in USWNT friendlies to keep herself in the picture so that if someone else was unavailable, she was next in line. Her chance popped up against England and she took it.
“You have to believe that it doesn’t matter if the stakes are high, it doesn’t matter if the opponent is better, it’s going to happen,” Press says when asked about her mentality while trying to score in a difficult match. “You stay committed to what you’re doing and it’s going to happen.”
After seven years and 122 games, it finally happened.