Though her rise to the national team hasn’t been as straightforward as expected, the United States’ Christen Press is set to announce herself to football fans everywhere during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. George Tsitsonis profiles the rising star of Team USA and… The Simpsons?!
Michelle. Mia. Abby. Alex. For the last 25 years, the biggest stars of women’s football in the United States have become household names. As every big tournament comes around, the same question is asked: who’s the next big thing?
Gold medallists at the last three Olympics, the US are currently trying to win their first World Cup since 1999 and there's an abundance of talent and experience in the squad. Forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, the most recognisable faces in the team, are certainly the leaders of Jill Ellis’s bunch.
- Name Christen Annmarie Press
- Born LA, USA, 29 Dec 1988
- Height 5ft 7in
- Professional clubs
2009-10 Pali Blues (10 games, 4 goals)
2011 magicJack (19, 8)
2012 Kopparbergs/Goteborg (21, 17)
2013-14 Tyreso (26, 25)
2014- Chicago Red Stars (15, 10)
2013- United States (46, 21)
However, another attacker who has been flying under the radar is now primed for a crack at stardom. Christen Press hasn’t always had the smoothest career trajectory, but in the last two years, the LA-born 26-year-old has risen to prominence with the national side… and she might be making up for lost time.
In Monday’s Group D opener against Australia, she marked her World Cup debut with the key goal – a well-placed finish from a player who has been a prolific scorer her entire career.
Goals all the way
After being named a reserve to the 2012 US Olympic squad, Press first represented her country in a February 2013 friendly against Scotland. She scored two and has been a squad mainstay ever since. But to many, it was a surprise it took her that long to force her way into the senior side after playing for the US at youth level. Press burst onto the national scene during her collegiate years.
Her Stanford University career was phenomenal as she set the school scoring and points record. Her development was no surprise to coach Paul Ratcliffe, who had seen something special from the start.
“There was no doubt in my mind that Christen had the ability to play for the national team,” says Ratcliffe. “She won the Hermann Trophy at Stanford and led our team to a few College Cups. I’m so happy to see her get the opportunity to play at the highest level and represent the US.”
Progression to the professional level seemed the natural course for a player destined for the top: undergoing the usual US sports route of the post-college draft system, she was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) draft.
Playing for club side magicJack (Florida-based but named after the owner’s phone tech company), her first professional season brought her the Rookie of the Year award and eight goals – third in the WPS rankings. It seemed as though a national team call-up was imminent.
That all changed in early 2012 as the WPS ceased operations. Suddenly, Press was in limbo. She was unemployed and the dream of representing her country began to fade. After reaching out to her contacts, she found herself in Sweden within a week. It was a move that would change the course of her career.
Euro star to US regular
Press signed for Kopparbergs/Goteborg FC of the Damallsvenskan in Sweden – and as she has since said on many occasions, being immersed into a new country allowed for a fresh start to her life and game.
Suddenly, the weight of expectation was gone for a player who had previously felt enormous pressure to produce. Freed of that psychological burden, Press admitted she began to play again for the love of the game. The results were nothing short of exceptional: 17 league goals (second only to established Germany star Anja Mittag) and 25 in all competitions was the proof of a player reborn – and gaining valuable experiences all the time. For the 2013 season, Press was snapped up by reigning Swedish champions Tyreso – and became the Damallsvenskan leading scorer with an incredible 43 goals in 33 matches. She returned to the US in 2014 with National Women’s Soccer League side Chicago Red Stars, for whom she top-scored that season; she was again the team’s top scorer by early May 2015, when she became one of eight Chicago players (an NWSL record) to join the national World Cup squad.
Press’s inclusion on the USNWT roster was no surprise: since moving back to the States, she has become a regular. To date she has made 42 appearances for her country, scoring 21 times. The 2015 World Cup is her first major international tournament as an active member and there is a growing expectation that this competition will set her up as a bona fide star.
From striker to icon
The hype is already there based on her impressive international performances over the last two years. Add to this a great deal of advertising interest from such brands as Nike and Coppertone and Press is becoming ever more recognisable face to the American public, even becoming ‘Simpsonized’ recently alongside teammates Wambach and Morgan. Her on-the-pitch exploits and commercial appeal are combining to increase her star power.
Does she have what it takes to reach the level of her illustrious predecessors or current superstar teammates? Former US World Cup-winning manager Tony DiCicco is no stranger to working with world-class talent, having coached the likes of Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly amongst others. He told FourFourTwo that he is convinced Press is the real deal.
“I rate Christen Press very high,” said DiCicco. “She’s capable of making a big difference for the US in Canada and this team needs her to have a big impact in every game.”
Press did just that in a relatively disjointed US performance in their first match against Australia: she scored the vital go-ahead goal just past the hour mark. Her overall performance was subdued, but she still managed to influence the match just as a true leading player would.
The question is can she continue to play a big role and have this World Cup be her breakthrough tournament? DiCicco believes consistency is the key: “She needs to break down defences consistently and create goals. She’s capable of doing that at this level.” Over the course of the next few weeks the eyes of American fans everywhere will be firmly fixed on the women’s team in Canada. And if Press can continue scoring goals and leading her side to their ultimate goal of winning the 2015 World Cup, perhaps that roll-call of iconic forenames will become Michelle, Mia, Abby, Alex and Christen.
Continental continues to support the growth of women's football in England. From grassroots sponsorship and community programmes, to the FA WSL, women's FA Cup and England Women's team, Continental is committed to providing a pathway for the next Duggan, Aluko or Carney.