U.S. Soccer

Be the Ball

The U.S. MNT Tours TPC Sawgrass


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The United States National team walked off the bus into the searing Florida humidity, and entered into the more palatable confines of a 110,000 square foot clubhouse. The TPC Sawgrass golf course serves as the headquarters for the PGA Tour, and hosts the The Players' Championship. On Thursday it hosted guests from a somewhat different sporting background: Ten members of the MNT would be led on a tour with the chance to try a couple shots on one of golf's most iconic holes.

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As it turned out, a fair amount of encouragement was included in the tour package.

"The game of golf welcomes you," TPC General Manager Bill Hughes told the players, introducing himself as a small crowd of onlookers gathered, camera phones at the ready.

The players then progressed to the gentleman's locker room, featuring lofted ceilings supported by thick slabs of brown wood. As the players proceeded to a separate locker room meant only for champions, a smiling and clearly excited bar employee managed a quiet "Go USA!"

The names on these lockers were much more recognizable. Several players had pictures taken in front of Jack Nicklaus' locker, as Hughes explained that the lockers of other past Players Championship victors are rotated out regularly.

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Walking down the players' tunnel to the grounds of the course, large pictures of historical champions lined the walls. "These walls start to talk," Hughes told the players. He didn't mean it literally, but he could have. An office halfway down the tunnel posted a small American flag and a U.S. Soccer logo with a "Welcome" message taped in its entryway open, and it’s staff gathered there to wish the players good luck as they exited back into the heat.

Now it was time to have some fun.

After a short ride in a caravan of carts, the players arrived at the course's iconic 17th hole, where each had two attempts to hit a ball 127 yards over the water and on to the green. The only question, who would take the first shot?

A laughing John Brooks pushed Julian Green to the front of the group to volunteer, but the 18-year-old declined. Eventually Chris Wondolowski stepped up to the tee with a pitching wedge to take the first shot.

He scuffed his first attempt, but followed up with a respectable second attempt (although it still didn’t find the green).
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As it turned out, few players did much better. Michael Bradley and Guzan were the only pair to get the ball on the green, though the real star was goalkeeper coach Chris Woods. The Englishman slammed both his efforts near the pin.

Afterwards the players stayed after to talk with staff and friends of the course. Each received custom engraved bag tags as well as a story or two to tell.

"Taxi! Taxi," yelled Brad Guzan as the players, including Wondolowski, cracked up. "Take Wondo home!"

- Alex Abnos
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First Cap, First Goal: Christen Press

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.

Christen Press
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup

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WNT Jun 11, 2017
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