If one specific moment is required to describe Christen Press’s game, it just might have come in January.
The U.S. had just lost 3-1 to France earlier that week. Chatter from fans was loud: It was the first time the Americans had lost in 28 matches. And those worries didn’t exactly dissipate in the U.S.’s first half against Spain a few days later. The match was locked in a scoreless draw. The U.S. had had chances, but nothing stuck.
Then Press subbed on early in the second half, and everything changed. Only a few moments passed before Press took the ball in the 53rd minute, and charged 50 yards down the field, taking on the Spanish defense near-solo. Her sprint took her upfield before pretty much anyone on the pitch could react. She zig-zagged a little towards the box, darted out one final time, and sent a shot into the corner of the net that no goalie was saving.
The U.S. went on to hold the clean sheet and win 1-0 off that goal. And Press continued her penchant for big-game moments coming off the bench.
“When teams are tired and the game’s starting to get stretched, her coming on the pitch is the worst thing that could happen to you,” said Laura Harvey, Press’ club coach with Utah Royals FC. “When she’s got fresh legs and is ready to go … any team facing that, it’s really difficult for anyone to deal with.”
Press is headed into her second World Cup with the U.S. this summer in France, with 47 goals for the national team already under her belt. And while she may not start regularly for this team, that really doesn’t matter: Her impact is felt most suddenly and most dangerously when she’s subbing on.
Part of that impact comes from her natural athletic ability, coming into a match when defenses are tired. Part of Press’s impact comes from her versatility, and the fact that no team can really pin her to one side, one position, or one method of scoring.
“She’s so dynamic off the dribble,” said Becky Sauerbrunn, Press’s teammate at the national and club levels. “She can score from the left or the right, she’s got such a scorer’s touch, she has everything you could need. She’s just quality. When you have a quality, well-rounded striker like that, it’s difficult to defend. You’ve seen countries struggle to defend her.”
Press can play either as a traditional center forward up top, or on the wing. She has the ability to start, or be the sparkplug that lashes at teams in the second half.
That versatility – especially for a U.S. team already more attack-focused than in years previous – will be play a big part in the U.S.’s bid for another World Cup win this summer.
“She’s evolved her game a lot over the last couple years, and she’s gotten away from that traditional 9 position and is a more dynamic player,” Harvey said. “She has an ability to pass, has the ability to go and score from anywhere … It’s scary to anyone.”