If there is one takeaway we can focus on from the U.S.’s performance in the Tournament of Nations, it is head coach Jill Ellis’s experimentation with the USWNT’s starting lineup. To say the experiment went well in their first two matches would be a gross overstatement. But one thing we did learn from it all–nobody’s spot is secure on the United States Women’s National Team. Unless your name is Megan Rapinoe, of course, because the Seattle Reign member is playing at an insane level right now. But there was one standout from the tournament and the NWSL season that I think has earned herself a regular starting spot–Chicago Red Stars forward Christen Press. She expands the mold of what a striker should be and elevates the rest of the team around her. She was the spark that the US needed against Brazil and part of why the U.S. led Japan at the half. And she can do a lot more than just shoot a soccer ball.
Here are the five reasons she deserves a regular starting spot:
Yes, she is more than just a player that can shoot the ball, but this is one of the main reasons that she should be the starting striker for the USWNT. It’s not necessarily that she can shoot the ball, but rather how she can shoot the ball. Her placement is something to be marveled at, and if you don’t believe me check out that goal she scored against Brazil. Press can find the corners and bend the ball around a goalkeeper with ease when she is in full control. In the NWSL she is in the top five for goals scored. She’s the leader in both shots taken and shots on goal, meaning that Press isn’t the kind of player who waits for opportunities to come to her. She creates those opportunities for herself, which creates a lot of havoc when trying to defend her.
Put simply, she is a constant threat.
Her Friends Get By With a Little Help From Her
One of the best things about Press is that she isn’t the kind of striker that floats up top and waits for the ball to come to her from her teammates. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Press definitely takes the JFK approach when it comes to playing on a team: she doesn’t ask what her team can do for her, she asks what she can do for her team. While some strikers might not necessarily look to be great orchestrators of a play, that is where Press is different. Instead of always having the need to be fed the ball from the wing, she looks to her surrounding players to see what opportunities can be built from their approaches towards goal. This means that her service to her teammates has to be on point. It also means that Press isn’t always the highest woman on the pitch. But, as could be seen from her assist to Rapinoe against Brazil, it works.
The Orchestrator of Opportunity
Feeding off of the prior two reasons Press should be the starting forward for the USWNT, both her shooting ability and the way she can get her teammates involved in the run of play has created a lot of positive opportunities for the U.S. and reminded the world of just how lethal the #1 women’s team in the world can be. She has used this approach in Chicago, and they are currently sitting in second place in the NWSL. But whether it is for club or country, you can see her on the pitch in between plays shouting out to teammates to move them forward, or to place them in gaps. And we already know that she has created more opportunities in the league than any other player with regards to her shooting, but what is really important about the opportunities she has, or her team has, is that they are capitalized on when it counts. Take, for example, a penalty kick equalizer against the Washington Spirit back in June, or a 1-0 hard fought victory against a tough Seattle Reign side. They both have Christen Press all over them, and even though they were only one goal apiece, they were important goals.
I’ll call a spade a spade. Christen Press doesn’t handle the ball like a striker. She handles it like a midfielder putting on a clinic. It might be one of her most important skill sets, but often the one that is far overlooked. She has the power to run full-steam into the box, pull the ball back across a defender and then have the poise to pick her placement on net. That is incredibly hard for any player to do, but she makes it look easy, like a walk in the park. No, a defender in front of her is not going to make her back off, but it might make the defender wish they had given her an extra step. Because she isn’t the kind of player that needs a wide-open shot. She just needs the width of the ball.
One of the greatest things about Press is that you know what you are going to get. She’s a work horse every second of the game, she isn’t one to be bogged down by injuries constantly (knock on wood), and she is a steady constant at what she does. Soccer is just as much a mental game as it is physical and the one thing that Press has is the inherent ability to not let the negative bring her down. She keeps shooting and keeps making runs, and that is more important than just about anything else when the odds feel impossible and a team needs a spark of inspiration to keep going. That’s probably why she has a way of igniting the team when she comes off the bench. Let’s face it, the U.S. wasn’t doing great things against Brazil before Christen Press entered the game. And I am not saying that the comeback was all her, but she definitely played an important role in it. She is reliable at any time in the match, from start to finish, or coming off the bench. The situation doesn’t matter.
Christen Press makes an impact, always.
I don’t think anyone really knows what Jill Ellis is going to do with the USWNT in the future. And I don’t know what role will be given to Christen Press. I do know that she is worthy of a regular starting spot. But I also know that even if she comes off the bench, she is going to play just the same as she would in any other situation–technically, multifaceted, and with her team on her back.