When Manchester United announced the signing of Christen Press, it immediately elevated winning expectations for an organization that is already synonymous for success on the men's side and is looking to match that on the women's side. For the two-time World Cup champion, it came with personal expectations as well.
In a video call with the media, the 31-year-old U.S. women's national team forward discussed her aspirations in playing for such a historic club, quarantine and the complexities in navigating the pandemic as a professional soccer player.
In Manchester United, Press has found a new club environment to continue her playing after so much uncertainty surrounding the sports landscape in the United States. The forward was among several players who opted out of NWSL competitions this year, due to the ongoing struggles with coronavirus across the country -- a decision she says was deeply personal and did not come easily.
"I think, three months ago now, we were in a very different position. No leagues had come back before NWSL came back and there was substantial risk involved in that," Press told CBS Sports.
The Challenge Cup took place during the summer, and after it's successful run, NWSL announced a plan for a Fall Series in order to continue play for the league. Far more players had chosen to voluntary opt out of the fall competition or pursue contracts playing overseas. A significant number of USWNT players and NWSL players are now competing abroad.
"It was difficult to choose not to participate, choose to not do the thing I love most, but it was one that I felt was important," Press said. "Especially in spreading the message and trying to encourage others' public health and safety first and to sometimes [we] have to make personal sacrifices in order to do that because that's what I felt was right."
The pandemic had completely impacted the NWSL season, and in the weeks leading into the Challenge Cup the country had also been going through public outcry with protests and calls for action in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in light of the death of George Floyd. Black players in NWSL have expressed the emotional struggles of navigating everything while in the bubble, but among all the pressure, positive progress emerged with the formation of a Black Players Coalition, something Press believes is essential to long lasting change.
"Everything that has gone on is a reminder of what part we can all play in making a better world," Press said. "Even though I was not in the bubble, I was in touch with a lot of players going through the stress and burden of racism. How it impacted every person in our country, and honestly in the world, but then also [discussing] the positivity of coming together and meeting challenges with change.
"I think there's great leaders that emerged in that moment and I feel lucky that I was in close contact with them. I feel really proud of how far the Black Players Coalition has come and the way that female Black athletes have come together to support each other and I think that's one of many very important steps to create real change."
Professionally for Press, the next step is hitting the pitch and playing again after such a long layover. She's eager to compete in England's FA Women's Super League for the first time in her career and feels honored to do so with such an iconic club.
"Having shut down from playing for six months and having no certainty to my career future but knowing that no matter what [I] was going to stay committed to playing and being my best. Then the opportunity to play for such a massive club that's going to be fighting for titles this year it's just a dream come true," Press said. "I feel like this is a fresh opportunity to take my career to the next level and I'm so grateful for that."