When U.S. Soccer announced its 23-player U.S. women’s national team roster for the upcoming Concacaf championship in July, one name that didn’t appear on the list seemed to grab all the attention.
Christen Press hasn’t played for the USWNT since the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when she scored a goal in the team’s bronze medal-winning campaign. Since then, she’s headlined Angel City FC in the club’s debut NWSL season, scoring two goals (and forcing an own goal) in 686 minutes and eight starts. The forward has shown an ability to take on multiple defenders and create plays out of nothing, helping Angel City start the season near the top of the NWSL standings.
Press’ status for World Cup Qualifying was in question after she went down with a knee injury in Angel City’s win over Racing Louisville FC on Saturday. Amid the speculation that Press was left off the roster because of the injury, which ACFC confirmed Monday as a season-ending torn ACL, U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski set the record straight on Monday afternoon.
“Christen Press was not on the roster even before the injury,” Andonovski told reporters. “We’re very sorry for her injury and don’t have confirming information on the extension or the significance of the injury. We just hope that it is not too serious.”
Andonovski later said that Press’ top priority for inclusion on future USWNT rosters is good health. Then, it comes down to how she compares to other forwards on the team’s stacked depth chart. Before the Olympics last summer, Press had been on a tear with the USWNT, heavily contributing to the team’s goal-scoring opportunities. The two-time World Cup champion is ninth on the team’s all-time scoring list, with 64 goals in 155 caps since 2013.
“I think that she is performing well, but it’s not just her,” Andonovski said. “For Christen to be back on the field, it’s not just to do well or perform well in her club environment. It’s also outperform the players that she’s competing against … like Mal Pugh and Sophia Smith and Alex Morgan, Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman. It’s not easy to be a forward in the United States right now. Obviously it’s great, but it’s not easy because the competition just got bigger and bigger.”
Since Catarina Macario went down with a torn ACL, there was bound to be some flexibility on the USWNT’s frontline. Many speculated that Press would get the nod alongside Alex Morgan, the NWSL’s current leading scorer, because of their recent form with their club teams.
Instead, rejoining Morgan on the roster is Megan Rapinoe, who hasn’t appeared for the U.S. since the Tokyo Olympics. The OL Reign forward has played just 154 minutes in four of the team’s eight matches. After scoring two goals at the Olympics, she has yet to start or score a goal for the Reign this season.
At the end of last season, Andonovski had a conversation with Rapinoe, in which he walked her through his process for evaluating younger talent for the future of the national team. He told Rapinoe that if she were still in good form by this point, she would be named to the Concacaf squad.
The 36-year-old will play the same position as Mallory Pugh at outside forward, though Pugh will keep the starting spot for now.
“You have to do something absolutely incredible, and I can’t see it right now, someone getting the starting spot from Mallory in these qualifiers,” Andonovski said.
Rapinoe has made it clear that she is up for the challenge of playing a behind-the-scenes role and using her experience to guide the younger players. One of the most decorated players in USWNT history, Rapinoe has scored 62 goals, won two World Cup titles and been named the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year during her 16-year career.
“She will do anything possible to push Mal to be even better, so to push her in her own way to be even better but also to be there for Mal when the tough time comes,” Andonovski said. “We all know every player at a certain time in a tournament will go through adversity, every team will go through adversity in a tournament time. Regardless of what it is, I think that Megan is going to be there for Mal, she’s going to be there for Soph [Smith] to help them. When we talked, we said her job is to enhance their performance by 20 percent, and that’s where we believe she’s going to be valuable.”
The young forwards will also benefit from playing alongside Morgan, who will make her first appearance at national team camp since September.
“The thing with Alex is she falls in the group with Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, who are experienced players who have gone through some tough times — but some great times as well — who knows how to win and how to win under tough circumstances, how to go through adversity,” Andonovski said.
The USWNT will play two tune-up games against Colombia, in Colorado on June 25 and in Utah on June 28, before traveling to Mexico for the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying tournament starting July 4.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.