Soccer Star Christen Press Is Done Suffering for Success

In late 2021, the soccer star and two-time World Cup champion Christen Press reached the sort of realization that has lately seemed to be in the air: She needed a break. And so, after playing abroad for Manchester United and in a postponed Tokyo Olympics, in September 2021 the veteran announced via Instagram that she’d be taking some time away from soccer to focus on her own mental and spiritual health.

Two weeks prior, the Palos Verdes, California native had become the first player signed to Angel City FC, Los Angeles’s new NWSL expansion team founded by investors like Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, Jennifer Garner, and Serena Williams’s husband (and Reddit cofounder) Alexis Ohanian. Knowing that she was locked in her return to play for Angel City, the 33-year-old booked a ticket to Spain to do something she’d long wanted to: hike El Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrim routes that stretches across the country, something she describes as “right up her alley.”

This signing with Angel City was significant on multiple fronts. For one, it meant Press would be anchored in her hometown for the first time in her decade-long professional career, which has taken her to Sweden, England, and across the US. As the first majority female-owned NWSL team, Angel City represents something different in a league recently riddled with public allegations of abuse and misconduct. In a report by The Washington Post, it was revealed that Press was one of seven players who filed a formal complaint about now-former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames’s emotionally abusive behavior in 2018, concerns that she’d raised as early as 2014. Shortly after, Dames was one of four male coaches to be fired from the NWSL over allegations of misconduct.

Ahead of her highly anticipated debut with Angel City, Press sat down with GQ on a sunny Malibu day in late February to talk about her decision to take a break from soccer, what she learned during her time off, and her return to Los Angeles.

Last year in September, you announced that you were taking some time away from soccer. What did the process to make that decision look like?

It was a long time coming and also spontaneous. Obviously, we were fresh off the Tokyo Olympics, which was a grueling tournament both because of the results and the pandemic and us being in isolation for a long period of time. I’ve never been away from the game. I studied abroad in college and took three months off, and that was the only break I’ve had in my life.

There’s this general consensus in sport that you just suffer: You push through it and keep going and that’s what makes you tough and that’s what makes you an athlete. But I believe in my heart that there’s another way. You can find flow and you can be at ease on the field and you can have bliss when you play. I felt like, in order for me to get closer to the player and athlete I wanted to be, I had to take a step back and focus on how close I can get to that blissful space off the field as a human and really understand my identity as a full person outside of an athlete.

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