As Shannon Boxx ends her brilliant 13-year international career as one of the world’s all-time great defensive midfielders, she knows she will miss the camaraderie and the competition, but she will keep with her some valuable lessons of what perseverance can accomplish.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m certainly finding that out with my daughter, Zoe. But it’s also true of a soccer player.
I didn’t make the National Team until I was 25 years old, which is late for this team (many of my teammates got their first caps as teenagers!), so it was a long journey just to pull on the U.S. jersey for the first time.
But as I look back on my career for both club and country, it’s very clear that I am a product of all the people who have supported me along the way. I can’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for helping me accomplish everything I did as a player, all the way back to my youth team, the Torrance Waves.
Growing up, my club coach was Sam Tanaka. He was a “soccer dad” but did an amazing job of teaching us everything we needed to know at that age. My understanding and passion for the game certainly grew over time, but the base was definitely established back then, and I know he helped me become the player I am today.
A crossroads in my career came in the fall of 2002 when I was traded from the WUSA’s San Diego Spirit in my home area of Southern California all the way across the country to the New York Power. It was a shock to the system in many ways.
Craig Bennett is an athletic trainer who was treating me for a minor injury at the time I was traded. He told me that I should be on the National Team, which was always my dream, but I told him my major problem was fitness. He said, “we can fix that.” From then on, I started training with him, got fit, got mentally in a good place and had a great season with the Power, which eventually led to the opportunity to make the 2003 Women’s World Cup Team.
Jim Herkiemer helped me recover from some major and minor injuries and was instrumental in helping me figure out how to change my training and weight lifting to manage my Lupus. As a result, I got stronger and agile and confident so that I could keep playing. He is a really great friend who helped me tremendously on the field.
Also, I owe a debt of gratitude to physical therapist Shawn Dailey, who helped me come back from having my baby, which was no easy task!
I of course couldn’t have done this for all these years without my family. Thanks to them for all the years of traveling and missing events in their own lives because they always understood how important my career was to me. My aunt and uncle are coming to my last game, and they’ve always been so supportive, as have my cousins, my brother, and of course my mom and my sisters. My sister Gillian also won Olympic gold medal winner (1996 in softball!) and have identical Olympic rings tattoos on our ankles so we’ll always have that to share.
I definitely would not have played this long without my husband, Aaron. I met him in 2008 and I was starting to think about retiring and getting a “real job.” He told me, “Retire? You are doing what everyone else wants to do!” That Olympics might have been my last year (remember I was hitting 30), but he helped me fall in love with soccer again and told me he would support me as long as I wanted to play. This summer, he took nine weeks off from work to take care of Zoe as we prepared and played in the World Cup. He’s been my rock. And he’s about to see a lot more of me!
A special thanks to Jill Ellis for giving me the opportunity to get healthy and fit after the birth of Zoe. Many coaches would have written me off but she didn’t. And of course, thanks to all of my teammates who were always supporting through me through the comeback and never for a moment let me believe I wouldn’t make it back to the field. They will always be a part of my family.
I have been fortunate enough play with several generations of Women’s National Team players. I look back fondly on being a part those 2003-2004 teams with the early pioneers playing at the ends of their careers. They taught me how to be a leader and how to act on and off the field. This current group of awesome players has kept up the tradition and has made me feel young. In fact, being around them makes me forget how old I am!
They gave me so much support when I announced publically that I had Lupus and I’ll always be grateful for that.
As I come to the end my career, I do realize that I will never be able to replicate these experiences again. Yes, you’ll have a team environment at your next job, but it won’t be like this. It won’t be battling and fighting and sweating next to your next best friends to achieve some truly great things, like being crowned the best in the world. They always have your back and you always have theirs. It’s pretty cool.
I want to especially thank Christie Rampone. We’ve literally seen her kids – Rylie and Reece - grow up in our National Team family. I remember the first time I changed Rylie’s diaper. I put it on backwards. So, thanks to Christie for teaching me so many valuable lessons about soccer, life, leadership and motherhood. We started the friendship at the New York Power and we’ve bonded for life. Even though I will be on the West coast and she’ll be in New Jersey, we’ll always be best friends.
It will be fun to tell the stories of my soccer career to my kids. I will tell them that it wasn’t easy and it was at times a rollercoaster, just like many things in life, but in the end it was worth every minute. Even being a starter all those years, you are always working to keep your spot, and then making that transition to the role of being a support player was a new challenge. But I like challenges, and hopefully I’ve met all mine with a positive attitude and mental toughness. These are all good lessons. Ones that I will pass on to Zoe as I tell her the great stories about all the teammates I played with, all the places we went and all the wins, and a few losses, we experienced together.
Thanks for everything.
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.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup