U.S. soccer star Christen Press says she’s found her landing spot with the Royals

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Christen Press, a member of the U.S. women's soccer team and newest addition to the Royals FC greets fans at the Carnival Real at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Saturday, June 23, 2018.

Sandy • Christen Press is no stranger to the spotlight.

The 29-year-old forward has starred on fields around the world as a regular on the U.S. women’s soccer team. But as she signed autograph after autograph for the line of fans at Rio Tinto Stadium last week, the newest member of Utah Royals FC felt something different.

“When you play for the national team, you have fans but you never have your fans. You’re on tour,” she said. “When you play for a city and you see the people every week, that’s something I’ve yet to experience. Already I can feel the difference.”

Only a few days have passed since Press landed in Utah following the completion of a blockbuster three-team trade. Already, though, Press feels like she has found something for which she has long been looking.

“I’ve been searching for the right environment to help me take the next steps in my career,” she said. “I feel like for the first part of my professional experiences, I did everything I possibly could individually to be the best player that I could. …

“I want to be in a place now where I can be lifted up with the environment and the people around.”

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Press apparently hadn’t found that opportunity at other stops in the National Women’s Soccer League. During the offseason, the Houston Dash acquired Press in a trade only to have the striker refuse to join the club. Instead, Press signed with the Swedish club Goteborg FC.

All the while, though, the 29-year-old said she was evaluating options for returning to the NWSL. Press stayed in touch with players around the league and had identified Utah as a possible landing spot even before she heard the first rumors that the Royals were working a trade for her rights.

“When the opportunity to come to Utah was in front of me, I felt in my heart that this is what I’ve been searching for,” she said.

When Press and the U.S. national team played an exhibition match against China at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 7, the cameras caught the forward speaking with Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen. Was he recruiting his next star player? Press said she can’t even recall the nature of the conversation.

“I don’t even remember what he said,” she said. “He was just very welcoming, very excited to have the national team there. I think he’s excited about what he’s created in Salt Lake City, as we all are. It’s a fantastic opportunity for women’s soccer and soccer in America in general.”

The Royals haven’t produced the results they would like on the field in their inaugural season; the team is 4-3-5 on the year, sitting in sixth place in the nine-team league. But the first-year club has garnered plenty of attention for its facilities and treatment of players, with Hansen aiming to become the top destination for professional women’s soccer in the nation.

“It’s a place where you can just focus on your craft,” Press said. “There are no distractions. They have everything available for the players. It’s super professional and the opportunities are endless what you can get out of that environment in a football sense. …

“The facilities and the club have surpassed my expectations. I never thought an environment like this was going to be possible in my career in women’s soccer. I kind of feel like we’re seeing what women’s soccer will be. It’s kind of like we’re in the future.”

But at this point in Press’ career, her focus is on the present and how her time with the Royals can help her take the next step.

“I’m 29. I feel like I have a great future ahead of me but I don’t have any time to waste,” she said.

Press, who will suit up and be available to play for the Royals on Wednesday night against the Seattle Reign, believes she he can help impact the first year club while making her a better player for her country. Despite scoring 44 international goals in 100 appearances, Press thinks she has yet to reach her potential as a player.

“I’ve never felt like I’ve been my best there,” she said. To be my best on the national team, I have to find my best at my club. I don’t feel like I’ve ever consistently found my form and been the player that I know I can be. My biggest goal is when I close my eyes and see my best self as a player, that I get to that. Then the possibilities are endless.”