How This Player Went From Being Unemployed To US Women's Soccer Star
A few weeks ago, I passed Christen Press outside of the Astor Ballroom on the seventh floor of the Marriott Marquis in Midtown Manhattan.
I was there to cover the US women's national team's media day.
Names like Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe garnered the most attention, and understandably so, but I wish I knew then that the 26-year-old Press was poised to break out in Winnipeg just 12 days later.
This past Monday, the ladies representing the Unites States were outplayed in their Group D opener against Australia.
Yes, Megan Rapinoe's deflected shot gave Jill Scott's side an early 1-0 lead, and yes, the US women eventually secured all three points with a 3-1 win.
But for a majority of the match, a team that's publically stated their goal is to win the World Cup looked like little more than outside contenders.
The US seemed anxious, lumping long ball after long ball, instead of attempting to control the game through the midfield.
Abby Wambach, the United States' all-time leading scorer, seemed rusty in attack, wasting numerous golden opportunities.
And Alex Morgan, arguably the most popular player on the team, wasn't even in the starting 11.
A bruised bone in her left knee had kept her off the field since April 4 – though she did make a cameo with just over 10 minutes left to play.
But with Rapinoe's goal canceled out through a fantastic strike by Australia's captain, Lisa De Vanna, and the Matildas upping the pressure to start the second half, Christen Press stepped up to not only give the United States the lead, but injected an air of calmness and stability that seemed to spread throughout the team.
There, being mobbed by her teammates, was the woman I saw just a few weeks earlier.
What I, and the rest of the world, didn't see, was the unbelievable journey that led Press to scoring the match winner and becoming the face of US soccer.
Unemployed twice in the span of three years, Press learned who she was through adversity.
A year ago, Christen Press was playing in the Champions League final with Swedish club Tyresö FF.
And although she supplied a superb assist in the match, she couldn't save her club from a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat at the hands of German side Wolfsburg.
Press also couldn't save Tyresö FF from bankruptcy, a fate that befell the club shortly before their UCL defeat.
While some players might have crumbled, losing both the match and a job, Press relied on her experience.
Two years before losing everything to Wolfsburg, Press had just completed her first season with America's Women's Professional Soccer.
She scored 10 goals in 19 games for the magicJack, was crowned WPS Rookie of the Year and had her eyes firmly set on a national team roster spot.
But in early 2012, Press received notice that the WPS had gone under -- a lack of funding once again.
This proved to be a blessing for her. Given just five days to make the most important decision of her life, the Stanford grad decided to pack her bags and head to Sweden.
There, she landed with club team Göteborg FC and began her development into a world-class talent.
She discovered the technical side of soccer, realizing deceptive movement and learning to read the defense were more important than going 100 mph and trying to dominate physically.
She told The Guardian,
All the things I was learning, I was falling in love with. It became the beautiful game.
A newfound playing style and a new mentality led to Press popping up on the national team radar.
Following a season at Göteborg, Press moved to Tyresö, where she took what she learned and applied it on the field.
Not only did she help get her side to the 2014 Champions League final, but she scored 23 times in 26 games to become the Swedish league's top scorer.
Early in her career, Press was putting pressure on herself to win every game and every challenge.
Now, she was simply playing within herself in the moment.
The goal was no longer to use a club performance to get national team recognition; it was simply to give it her all for 90 minutes at a time.
I think a lot of my career and my life before I went to Sweden, I felt like I was trying to be someone else. When I went to Sweden, I sort of found out who I was. And I learned to love her. I think that's what I won.
In addition to finding her feet, Press also found her voice.
While in Sweden, the Los Angeles native took up blogging.
At first, it served as a way to keep her friends and family informed of her whereabouts, but it soon became an important form of expression for the young forward.
In one post, Press wrote,
I've tried really hard the last few years to be less attached to winning. I would like to fight as hard as I possibly can in each and every game, and win or lose, leave it at that and move forward. I know in my heart that that is the mindset I need to be a successful and happy athlete.
The less attached she got to winning, the more she won; and the more the US soccer hierarchy took notice.
Press finally made her senior debut with the USWNT in 2013, tallying two goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory over Scotland.
She hasn't looked back since, scoring 21 goals in 46 appearances, including her most recent finish to give the US a winning start to their 2015 World Cup campaign.
At the 2015 Algarve Cup, Press scored a Messi-esque solo goal against France, torching no less than six French defenders before finding the back of the net.
Having already found out so much about herself, Press now wants to find glory in Canada.
Before Christen Press lined up alongside her teammates in Winnipeg on Monday night, she penned a contributing article for The Players' Tribune, titled "The Pursuit."
The concept of achieving greatness reminds me of my elementary school math lesson on infinity. What is greatness, anyway? This alluring, ever-distant world both taunts and inspires athletes. I have a weakness: I never feel like I'm good enough.
That last line reads like a summary of the Pre-Sweden Christen Press. The woman who, from the age of 10, dreamed of nothing but representing her country at the highest level of competition.
The woman who carried the crushing pressure of playing in a final into every ball she kicked.
And the woman who came dangerously close to falling out of football for good.
I have a strength: I never feel like I'm good enough.
Here is the transition of Christen Press.
Press is still driven by a constant desire to succeed, only now, she knows success isn't measured by an end achievement, but rather by each leg of the journey that gets her there.
We don't know where the USWNT will be when the 2015 Women's World Cup final takes place on July 5, but one thing is for certain:
There's no better player among the 23 than No. 23 to shoulder the expectations of a nation, while refusing to give into the pressure.