Wednesday night, the U.S. women's soccer squad begins its World Cup campaign as it faces off against Trinidad and Tobago. It's part of a series of games that will also put them up against Guatemala and Haiti in coming days.
There's a lot at stake: the best teams can clinch a spot in Canada next summer. It's all part of a tournament put on by CONCACAF, the association of North, Central American and Caribbean nations.
We caught up with one of the U.S. players, Christen Press, during a break in training in Kansas City. Press grew up in Southern California and went on to play at Stanford, where she broke school records for goals scored and assists and was the national player of the year.
Key highlights from the interview:
How do you deal with the intense pressure of performing as a striker for the national team?
It’s the high stakes position on the field. And the best way to deal with that pressure – of being able to put the final touch on the ball and help your team advance in a round or win the World Cup – is to realize that it’s just another touch. You take great touches in the midfield, on defense, and when it gets to in front of the goal, there’s a lot more pressure and that touch feels extraordinarily more important. But if you just keep it in perspective, you realize that there will always be another chance. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so once you get that confidence and that calmness, it becomes much more manageable.
How did your time in Europe shape you as a player and a person?
The European leagues have been there a long time, the coaches have been there, the clubs have been there, there's history to the teams. There's already that football support culture. And also, the style is very different and it reflects the style of the international teams that we play against. I think that hugely impacted my game and my perspective on the game, just to see how great things can be if you just have a little bit of balance in your life.
How do you feel about having to play on artificial turf during the World Cup in Canada?
The quality of turf, or the quality of grass, is such a range. We’ve played in Canada on some of these pitches and the turf is not the highest quality. A lot of times when we're having these discussions, the authority figures have been saying that the best turf in the world is better than grass. But that’s not what this is. This is an instance where the turf that we’ll be playing on is far inferior to a grass pitch. And it really affects the pace of the game, the touches on the ball and a lot of people really are wary of injuries. I don’t think that going into World Cup you should have to worry that you’re going to get injured because you’re playing on a poor quality turf.
On your personal blog, you highlight a quote that says “We are the creators of our own destiny.” What does that mean to you?
For a long time growing up, I thought that everything happens for a reason and it’s kind of already written. But as I’ve grown and learned various things, I think that the most important moment is the one that you’re in and that’s the only moment that matters, that you can really control. The future is unknown and the past is history. So just [by] being in that moment and doing you’re absolute best, I think you have a real chance at impacting your future.
Upcoming US games (all times Pacific):
Oct. 15 vs. Trinidad and Tobago, 5:30 p.m., Sporting Park; Kansas City, Kansas
Oct. 17 vs. Guatemala, 6 p.m., Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
Oct. 20 vs. Haiti, 4:30 p.m., RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.