I got a call that every soccer player dreams of a few days after our last game of the NWSL season.
My coach at the Western New York Flash, Paul Riley, had come up to me a couple of days before that and told me that Jill Ellis might bring me into National Team camp. I was really excited and anxious then, but when I got the call from Tim Ryder, the WNT General Manager, I was sitting in my living room, doing some packing and doing some phone interviews, so it caught me a bit off-guard.
I was trying to act very cool, but on the inside I was so excited. In fact, it’s highly likely that I didn’t sound cool at all.
He told me that I was invited into the training camp for the two games against Switzerland in Utah and Minnesota, but that I had to keep it under wraps until U.S. Soccer officially announced the roster. Of course, I immediately called my parents, my sister, and my boyfriend but I told them that WE ALL needed to keep it a secret.
The roster was announced a week later after we’d won the semifinal against Portland and before the NWSL Championship. I’m not the most talkative person, but it was hard keeping that secret for a week!
Before coming to Utah, I’d only been in a few youth camps with the Under-23s, and all those girls had known each other for a long time. Everyone was nice, but I remember feeling that they were a bit standoffish until you proved yourself, so that’s what I was expecting from the senior group, except times ten. These players are professionals, Olympic champions, World Cup champions and they have tremendous confidence in the environment.
I was a bit nervous about how to fit in.
Williams helped lead the WNY Flash to the club's first NWSL title as the league MVP and Golden Boot winner.
Soccer-wise, coming off the NWSL season, I felt fresh and confident, but I knew it was going to be hard. Coming into a National Team camp any time is hard, and I knew doing it for the first time was going to be a big challenge.
I was definitely nervous about the soccer.
Naturally, the veterans gravitate towards the veterans and the newbies gravitate towards the newbies, but there were 11 uncapped players going in so I knew I wasn’t going to be by myself. Of course, I also knew my Western New York teammates Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper, so that was a bit more comforting.
What I didn’t expect was that the veterans would be so welcoming, on and off the field. When you made a mistake, they said “try this instead” and when you did something well, they would commend you for it. That support really made training even more fun. I learned a lot and every practice was awesome.
That said, training was intense. Everyone was so excited to get into camp that the first couple of days it was like a bunch of mad women running around. As Arin Gilliland said to a reporter, “WNT training is like the NWSL, on three cups of coffee.” It’s probably like five cups.
And it was not just the physical speed; the speed of thought is also so heightened. Playing in New York, sometimes I feel like I can get away with receiving the ball and then decide what to do with it. With the National Team, you have to have like three different options in your mind even before you receive the ball. I knew I needed to improve on that.
We got tons of information from the coaches. Some of the stuff you already know, but the language and the verbiage is different so you have to learn that. You have to learn how they want you to play in a particular formation, you have to learn your assignments on set plays and you have to learn it quickly. Fortunately, everyone is open to questions.
I asked Becky (Sauerbrunn) and Christen (Press) a million questions and my roommate Alyssa (Naeher) probably two million. I am sure she was thinking, “Man, this girl sure asks a lot of questions.” But I figured better to ask than not to ask and look like I have no idea what I’m doing, which I’m sure was still the case some of the time.
For me, the first few days were challenging. You’re trying to get a feel for all the players, their tendencies and how they like to play. Mentally, I think I was putting more pressure on myself that I needed to.
On the third day, I found out I would be a sub for the game. I told myself, “Lynn, stop being such a psycho, stopping being so chaotic, you know how to play soccer,” and I settled in a bit.
I thought I had a good practice the day before the game in Utah and then the day came and I told myself I needed to play even better in the game. After the game, I told myself I needed to play even better in the next practice. Of course, you can’t do that every day, but you have to challenge yourself and that’s the kind of attitude you have to have.
“If I had my way, I would be on the team forever, and play in the World Cup and Olympics and play until my legs fall off, but the reality is that I just want to be invited to the next training camp.”
In the first game against Switzerland, I found out 10 minutes before the first half ended that Christen and I would be going into the game at halftime. I looked at Christen and sort of kicked my feet and squeezed her hand, and then Christen started telling me the protocol of what we do when the first half ended. We started warming up five minutes before the end of the half, then we went into the locker room to listen to Jill’s halftime talk, and then I figured, “I’ll do whatever Christen does.”
Then our goalkeeper coach, Graeme Abel, came up to me to go over my marking assignments on set plays and after we were done, I looked around and Christen was gone!
I had no idea what to do. Am I allowed to go out to the field? What do I do when I get out there? I decided to head out to the field and luckily Christen was already out there so I just followed her lead. Sam was also warming up so she started passing with me and she could tell I was a bit nervous. She just came up to me and said, “They brought you in for a reason. Just be who you are. Don’t try to do anything fancy, just be Lynn.”
And I was like, “I can do that.”
Then Carli came up to me in her calm Carli way and said, “Are you ready?” I was like “Uh-huh” and she said, “Okay, just connect your first pass and everything will be fine.”
And I was like, “I can do that!”
Then once the half started, it was just playing soccer (on five cups of coffee).
We’d been working on pressing the other team defensively, so the ball was going back to the center back and I was going to try to gamble and press her and she basically just whiffed it trying to pass it back to her ‘keeper. I got possession of the ball and I thought, “Lynn go get a goal, this is your opportunity.” I was going pretty straight at the goal, so I thought, “I need to get an angle,” and I dribbled a bit to the right and then I was like, “Don’t hit the goalkeeper, hit the goal!”
After the ball went in, the first person I saw was Carli and I didn’t even know how to celebrate, I was in such shock, so I just gave her a hug. And then everyone came to give me a hug. It was just an amazing moment.
I was just trying to come on and make an impact, but I didn’t expect it to happen that quickly, so I was pretty shocked myself.
A few days later I found out in the team meeting that I would be starting in the second game. Once again, I was pretty shocked. I tried to appreciate the moment because I know that so many people would want to be in that position. Coming into camp, my mentality was to take it day-by-day and try to make small strides.
I got to dress for a game. Awesome.
I got to play. Even more awesome.
When I found out I was starting, that was incredible! I was trying to be cool in the meeting, but inside I was totally not. Once again, highly likely that I did not look cool at all.
Walking out with the starters in front of a huge crowd was just mind-blowing. You hear the national anthem all the time at so many sporting events, but when you do it for the National Team, and you look at the flag and have your hand not only over your heart, but also over the U.S. Soccer crest, it’s something I can’t explain. It makes me so proud to represent my country and to try to do it with honor. It was a very humbling experience to say the least.
At this point, it’s still all baby steps. Ideally, if I had my way, I would be on the team forever, and play in the World Cup and Olympics and play until my legs fall off, but the reality is that I just want to be invited to the next training camp.
I just want to try to have fun and appreciate that it’s an honor to be even called to one camp. Who knows what the future will bring? But I’m super blessed to have had the opportunity in those two games against Switzerland and now it’s all about consistency, for club and country. It’s about getting better each day and doing enough to get called into that next event.
I learned a lot last week, but more than anything, I learned that the competition is so intense that you have to be professional all the time, in every aspect of being on this team.
Also, soccer is supposed to be fun! So enjoy every moment. And that’s what I am going to do every single time I get to play for the USA.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup