Christen Press had won it all: NCAA All-American; Olympic Gold; the FIFA World Cup. She’d played in the NCAA Tournament, the UEFA Champions League, the NWSL, and the Women’s Super League. And yet, she was still driven to play and win on her own terms.
Drafted 4th overall by the Washington Freedom in the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer League, Press played just one season before the league folded and she was forced to look to Europe for a new club to call her home. “I made the decision to play in Sweden,” she explains, because “I didn’t even have a choice. It was either play abroad or don’t play at all.” Over the next decade, she bounced from club to club in Sweden, the USA and England, ultimately landing back home in 2021 with Angel City FC.
Meanwhile, as Press and her peers established the United States women’s national team as the preeminent dynasty in world soccer, they simultaneously lobbied U.S. Soccer to pay them the same money as their male peers and to support the USWNT with better playing conditions—the women were playing on astroturf, which is riskier for injuries, and had their travel accommodations were lacking.
Amid all of this, Press made a decision in late 2021 to step away from soccer for both club and country. She explained on Instagram that the “focus, intensity, and prioritization” required to play elite soccer, “left little room for much else. I’ve made the difficult decision to take a couple of months away from the game to focus on my mental health, spiritual growth, and processing grief.”
Press traveled, rested, and focused on re-inc, a lifestyle and athleisure clothing brand she co-founded in 2019 with her USWNT teammates Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Meghan Klingenberg. It seemed her career was looking the way she wanted. The USWNT won a landmark equal-pay deal with U.S. Soccer and she had returned to her home in Los Angeles to be the marquee player for the newly-founded Angel City FC, a women-led expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League.
And then, just eight games into the NWSL season, Press tore her anterior cruciate ligament while playing against Racing Louisville, one of her former clubs. Once again, it seemed to Press that she had lost control.. Now, however, she says she’s determined to have a long third arc in her soccer career—and that starts with embracing recovery, above all else.
“When I go to PT, I’m never on music duty,” Press says, laughing as she pictures her physical therapy sessions. “I surrounded myself with the absolute best—the best surgeons, the best team of people—and that allows me to be really present in my rehabilitation, and really focused on what I can achieve in that moment.” So focused, it seems, that the responsibility of managing a Spotify playlist is too much.
But one can understand her tunnel vision as she looks for a quick and healthy recovery. Like many of the obstacles Press has faced, ACL tears are pretty common for athletes—and happen to women at a 4-6 times higher than men (her USWNT teammate and re-inc co-founder Megan Rapinoe has endured three tears). While a return to pre-injury form is both a priority for her, there’s no guarantee it will happen for anyone, including Press.
To support herself in this process, she’s fallen back on two pillars of her life: Her fans — especially those from Los Angeles — and her teammates at re-inc.
Re-inc is based in New York, so Press is “full-on work from home” from Los Angeles, where she relies on a “beautiful desktop that I love so much, named Roberta, and a standing desk in a second room a little bit separate from the area where I live the rest of the day.” Black heart and TY!! (thank you) emojis rule the re-inc Slack channels, which allow Press to stay connected with her team.
With that said, even with re-inc and recovery taking up much of Press’ week — rumor has it she’s working 60 hours weekly—there is ample time for a recovering athlete to get down in the dumps, and that’s where the fans are crucial.
“In previous hard moments in my career, a fan started a hashtag, #dogsforChristen,” she recalls, referring to her call on Twitter for fans to share pictures of their dogs while she recovered from her ACL injury. “I thought it was actually a nice way to kind of invite people into my recovery process and my healing process. Especially now that I’m back in Los Angeles, playing in my hometown, I feel very connected to the community of supporters that I have.”
My heart is broken: I’ve torn my acl. Readily accepting all love, prayers, virtual hugs, dog pics, and smudging ceremonies. Love you all xx
— Christen Press (@ChristenPress) June 13, 2022
Even away from the pitch, Press is as in control as she’s ever been and armed with an arsenal that includes dog pictures, lifelong teammates, and a philosophy that she alone will decide how things go—for her health and her career.
“When you think everything’s gonna go one way, it never does. And it’s a part of the journey that I accept, and appreciate, Press explains. “Because you think you’re gonna push yourself to the brink, and you think you’re really coming back from that, and you get pushed further. And that’s how you expand. And that’s how you grow.”