You may already know that Houston has an inferiority complex, roughly proportionate to its size importance. Having its name as the first word ever transmitted from the moon is not enough to compensate for not being perceived as in the same league with New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio, or even Austin. It's the main reason people here buy and wear t-shirts that say Fuck You, Houston's Awesome. If our city really were awesome, we wouldn't have to keep telling ourselves that it is.
So when a smart, personable, hard-working, relatively woke international star like Christen Press is traded to the Houston women's soccer franchise, and then refuses even to report to training camp without even specifying why??? Houstonians who follow the game might wonder what they did to deserve such a snubbing.
Yesterday, before going to the Houston Dash's match against Press's former team, Chicago Red Stars, I checked the Dash's roster page to see if the team had at least given her a squad number. Her entry had appeared without a number since the big three-way swap was announced in January: a swap that included shipping two-time FIFA player of the year Carli Lloyd to play in her beloved New Jersey for Sky Blue FC and Australian star Sam Kerr to Chicago. (Kerr was away on international duty with the Matildas this weekend.)
As of yesterday, Press's entry and mugshot were no longer on the page, and I could not find any news on the Dynamo/Dash website explaining it.
Last Wednesday, an item in the Philadelphia Inquirer left readers equally mystified. The Philly article also notes that Press was left off the National Team roster for the upcoming friendlies with Mexico (one of them to be played 8 April in Houston!); that omission was Coach Jill Ellis's decision to make, and Ellis is under no obligation to explain it.
The Dash's starting lineup had only four returning players from last season, and two of them (halfbacks Janine van Wyk and Amber Brooks) have new numbers on their uniforms this year. Rachel Daly, still wearing #3, started at right fullback, where she's been playing for England. Of the seven new faces, three were college draft picks from this year. None of the new faces belonged to anyone named Christen Press. Absent Press, goalkeeper Jane Campbell, the fourth returning player who started yesterday, is the only member of the US Women's National Team on the roster. Captain Kealia Ohai, still mending from last season's injury, wasn't even on the bench.
When speaking to the press, the Dash players and new coach Vera Pauw have taken Press's refusal stoically. "It is what it is," said Campbell. As a fan and a Houstonian, I'm more than a bit miffed at Ms. Press. If I were the kind of person to troll her Twitter page and say nasty things about her, I would (not that I'm advocating such behavior).
Still that ol' H-Town inferiority complex in me wants to speculate as to the real reason or reasons we won't get to watch her in those games for which I have already purchased tickets. In some of my hypotheses, I'm willing to afford her the benefit of the doubt; in others, I'm like, just go back to Palos Verdes Estates and teach some damn yoga classes to the botoxed & bleached country-clubbing trophy wives, cuz we don't need ya!
Apart from the guesswork about the lure of Sweden in the various articles, just perhaps:
- she hates our weather, which would be quite understandable
- she knows that crowds for Dash matches tend to be pretty sparse (although yesterday's was a quite respectable 5,800 or so)
- she's a Cali girl who just doesn't want to play in deep red state like Texas
- she doesn't want to play under an Afrikaner coach, even one whose tactical approach is an excellent fit for Press's playing style, cuz, like, y'know, Afrikaners (OOPS, CORRECTION: Pauw is actually a Nederlander (i.e., Dutch), but she coached the South African WNT.)
- she wouldn't get along well with Daly, who like your stereotypical Yorkshire lass has only a blushing acquaintance with the concept of tact
- she's spoken with Lloyd, who otherwise excellent memoir makes zero mention of Houston or the Dash, as if concealing that she had played two seasons here, and who advised her not to go
- she's—aw, hell's bells, Christen! I've run out of semi-plausible explanations, and even amid the tempest surrounding your big I-don't-wanna, I like you too much to include the really catty ones in this list. The news that you'd be coming to play here made losing Carli bearable. I've even told a checker at Whole Foods, who looks more than a little like you, how much I respect your game. I bought a partial season ticket package anticipating how you and Kealia might link up and shred defenses, how your speed and your mercilessly opportunistic play might generate some excitement locally and bring more fans to the stadium. Please tell us what Houston did to you that made you want to hurt us so—or make sure your agent negotiates a fat contract for you to play in Sweden or France so we'll know the real reason. If male athletes can chase the big bucks, so can women.
Update: Sweden Calling
Christen Press has indeed signed with Göteborg, her previous club in the Swedish Damallsvenskaliga. Houston Dash's front office has decided to retain her player rights in the event that she returns to the NWSL, a move which created a bit of controversy on Twitter. The replies to the post below are about 50-50, with tweeters on both sides agreeing that the Dynamo-Dash ownership and management teams need to get their house in order, lest they continue driving away top players.