Well, that happened.
The first Utah Royals FC match with Christen Press became a reality, and things definitely looked very different in a lot of ways. Let’s try and break a few of them down.
Seattle Reign FC have a dark blue kit this year, with the same zigzag pattern that the Royals and several other teams have on it. This forced an interesting change in shorts for the hosts, as the Royals came out in a never before seen all-gold kit that didn’t look bad, but wasn’t the iconic look that we’re used to. Still unexplained is why two NWSL teams can’t wear the same shade of shorts even with very different tops, but MLS games often have both goalkeepers in identical uniforms.
Yes, she’s good
We all knew Press is a good player. Seeing it on the field is something else entirely. Her speed and shooting skill change how defenses have to deal with our team, and that’s a good thing for everyone on the field. She’s got the ability to break down a defender in a one-on-one, and threaten to score when she shoots. If there’s a negative to her play, it’s that she’s almost too confident that she can make the play happen, and can miss chances to set up her teammates as a result. It’s a quality you want a top striker to have, in a way, because she’s not afraid to try to make something happen, but she’ll need to remember not to carry the whole team.
The formation was listed pre-game as the same 4-3-3 we’ve been used to, and it played that way in the opening minutes. Then Press changed sides, and not long after Katrina Gorry had dropped off to the midfield to create a 4-4-2 with Gunny Jònsdòttir and Desiree Scott in between her and Diana Matheson. It was a much more dynamic setup than we’ve seen, with Press roaming up top looking for any advantage she could find, and lots of space opening up for the midfielders.
If this is going to work for the rest of the season, and beyond if Press stays in Utah past the end of this year, the whole team needs to be aware of how to best use her. There were a lot of missed chances to put a ball behind Seattle’s defense and let her chase it, which is something she wants to do almost all the time. Press was visibly frustrated several times with the hesitation to send her upfield.
At the same time, the rest of the team needs to take advantage of what she creates. Gorry and Matheson did the best with this, taking a few great shots from distance that we haven’t seen much of this year. Press will demand attention from the defenders, and the chances to score will be there for everyone else. Capitalizing on them will be critical to increasing the goals for, and winning games rather than settling for a draw.