For the first 10 years of her career, Christen Press played nothing but away games.
She was born and raised in Southern California, a region that has known just one season of top-tier women’s professional soccer. So she played in Florida and Sweden, Utah and England. Everywhere but home.
“The dream of being a pro player in L.A. was always elusive for me,” Press said. “Every team that I’ve played for has always been like, ‘You know, when L.A. gets a team, we promise we’ll send you there.’ And it always felt everyone’s been able to say that because no one knew when it was happening.”
That uncertainty ended Monday when Angel City FC, Southern California’s fledgling NWSL franchise, made Press not only the first signing in club history but the best-paid player in league history as well. Although the club declined to discuss the details of Press’ contract, sources with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed it is for three seasons and slightly more than $700,000.
In the past, U.S. Soccer subsidized NWSL contracts for national team players, but Press’ contract will be paid by Angel City. To acquire the rights to sign the two-time World Cup champion, Angel City sent its first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL draft, $75,000 in allocation money and roster protection in the expansion draft to first-year team Racing Louisville FC.
The confirmation of Press’ signing came just hours after Angel City announced it made Freya Coombe, currently the manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC, its first coach.
“For it to really be happening, to be able to bring professional soccer back to Los Angeles and to be a part of that team, is nothing but a dream come true,” said Press, who remembers watching the Los Angeles Sol before it disbanded in 2010. “A dream that didn’t even feel possible for the majority of my career.”
Press, who will be 33 when Angel City debuts next year, played for Manchester United of the Women’s Super League last spring. She also played for two clubs in Sweden, two clubs in NWSL and spent one season in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer, the league the Sol played in.
Press said that forced family and friends to follow her around the world to see her play in person. Her father lived with her for a time in Sweden. A close friend, she said, traveled to watch her play for all six club teams.
“To be able to come and play in front of them week in, week out, it will absolutely be a dream come true to see them in the stands and know that I’ve come home,” she said. “For me [it’s] like full circle.”
Despite her club success, Press has been at her best with the national team, appearing in every game in four of the last six years, tying for the team lead in goals last year and leading in assists in 2019. Her 64 career goals in 155 international caps rank ninth in U.S. Soccer history.
Eniola Aluko, Angel City’s sporting director, said she was drawn to Press as much for her versatility as for her durability and goal-scoring prowess. Although she scored or set up 41 goals in her last 43 games with the U.S., Press has become more of a playmaker in recent years. She also fits in anywhere along the front line and has worked hard to improve her defense, ticking off most of the boxes Angel City was interested in.
“As part of building a team that is exciting and unpredictable and difficult to beat, you have to look at what players can fit into that,” Aluko said. “That is a dream for a coach because it means that a coach can adapt their tactics depending on the opposition.
“So bringing in players who are very intelligent, who are very strong in multiple positions, like Christen gives you an idea of what kind of team we’re trying to build.”
Press’ local roots were also important to a fledgling team trying to establish a foothold in a crowded sports market. Born in Los Angeles, Press played for her father, Cody, a former football player at Dartmouth, as a child before going on to win two CIF titles at the Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, where she also lettered in track and tennis. At Stanford she broke seven school records and won the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s version of the Heisman, as a senior.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job very well if I didn’t consider all of those factors,” Aluko said. “Signing somebody like Christen, who is from L.A., understands the community, understands all of the things that we’re trying to achieve with Angel City in terms of equality and pay equity…that’s what makes it such an incredible signing.
“It’s a multi-dimensional signing.”
Maybe. But for Press it’s all about the homecoming. And now that she’s proven she can come home again, there’s no reason to ever leave.
“We’re trying to build something really substantial,” she said. “It feels like destiny for me to start this team and come back home
“Whether it’s in three years, six years or nine years I would love to finish my career in front of my friends and family and, obviously, the city of Los Angeles.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.