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The ballad of Christen Press

Christen Press has found a new gear, and that is pretty awesome.

Soccer: Womens World Cup-England vs USA Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports

Christen Press is an impressive player. And no, my word choice isn’t for pun-related reasons. Watching Press run full speed, with the ball screaming toward her off a well-placed cross, puts me on the edge of my seat every time. I know she is able to create magic out of an inch of space or half a second of a defender trying to find her footing.

But that magic has been limited to club performance and national team friendlies.

As Kim McCauley wrote here, “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.”

No forward is going to rise to the occasion every time the ball is at her foot and comes screaming towards her head. Abby Wambach missed headers, and Alex Morgan has missed shots, even Mia Hamm didn’t have a perfect record when it came to goals vs. shots taken. But Abby Wambach put the ball in goal against Brazil in 2011, and Alex Morgan hit a shot in 2012 to send the U.S. to the Olympic final over Canada, and I don’t need to tell you all Mia Hamm did.

And now after years, caps and goals in games that don’t really matter, Christen Press has her moment. She scored a goal in the biggest stage in soccer against England in the semifinal.

Christen Press in 2019 has been a different player than we’ve seen in the past. In the context of her time with Utah Royals FC, she has seemingly been unleashed in her 180 minutes on the pitch this season. She has made smarter runs with more connections to the midfield and going deeper with purpose. It is as if she has been turned up to 11 in her time so far for the team.

Utah has had a few rough games this year, and a lot of 1-0 wins that didn’t look like the lines would hold, but somehow they did. Getting the non-U.S. internationals back after the World Cup will relieve some of that stress in the short term. It will give the spine of the team back and allow the team to take a deep breath.

But the sooner that Utah can put a healthy, focused, ready-to-play Christen Press back in the XI, the better. Goals need to come, and this Christen Press looks to be ready to go all in, making this her year.

I don’t really know what to attribute this new gear Press has found. Could it be Press getting smarter as she has gotten more mature as a player? Probably. Could it be Vero Boquete joining the team and giving her a little of that magic they had the last time they played together? Maybe.

Grant Whal wrote about the heartbreaking passing of her mother. None of us know what sparked off this version of Press. And honestly, giving her and her family space to process the loss without thinking too hard about the pain they must be going through, may be for the best. But this heartbreak may be pushing her forward.

Something about Press changed this year. At 30 years old, she looks like she is just finding a new gear. If Utah can welcome her warmly back into the fold and put the ball at her feet or turns out at her head now and then, magic is sure to follow.

I don’t know what Press coming back will do to playing time for Katie Stengel or Amy Rodriguez. Will one find their place up top as her partner? Will she even be the center forward for Laura Harvey when she comes back, or will she again be free to run in front of the sides or the center as she did in the first two games?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I do know Laura Harvey is a pretty good coach, so I’ll let her work on the answers herself. We all will be scoring her work at home anyway as Press, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara eventually come marching home.