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Inside the deal that brought USWNT star Christen Press to Utah Royals FC

China's Han Peng (18) and United States' Christen Press (23) vie for the ball during the first half during an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Cleveland. The United States defeated China 2-1. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
The United States' Christen Press, right, battles with China's Han Peng during match Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Cleveland.
Ron Schwane, AP

Back in the spring of 2012, Laura Harvey was coaching the Arsenal Ladies Football Club in England when her team faced Sweden’s Goteborg FC in a Champions League match.

One player in particular on the opposition caught Harvey’s eye, but she barely knew her name, and didn’t know where she was from. As Harvey found out, it was American forward Christen Press, who had won the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top player at Stanford in 2010 and had just started playing for Goteborg after the Women’s Professional Soccer League folded in the United States.

In late 2012, Harvey left her native England to coach the Seattle Reign in the newly formed National Women’s Soccer League. Having made her first-ever appearance for the United States Women’s National Team in 2013, Press left Sweden for the NWSL in 2014, but wound up on the Chicago Red Stars.

Since then, Harvey has tried repeatedly to get Press on her team, and now as the head coach of Utah Royals FC, she finally was successful last week as URFC and the Red Stars (along with the Houston Dash) swung a blockbuster trade that brought Press and defender Sam Johnson to the Beehive State in exchange for Brooke Elby and five draft picks.

As it turns out, the timing couldn’t have been much better for either Harvey or Press. The coach gets a gifted goal scorer who just tallied her 100th cap for the USWNT, and the player gets to go to an environment she wants to be in.

With her salary paid for by U.S. Soccer and not the NWSL, Press didn’t report to the Dash after she was traded there before the season began (last week, she was first traded by Houston back to Chicago and then sent to Utah to make the deal work), and expressed that URFC was a team she wanted to play for before ultimately going back to Goteborg in March.

“I think that I have been kind of searching for an environment that can help me get to the next level,” Press said Tuesday as she met with local media for the first time, “and I thought that it was important for me to do my best to put myself in a position where I can be inspired and be taught and be around the right people and the right resources to take the next step in my career.

"It’s not as easy as it sounds, and I think it’s worth fighting for. I really do believe that Utah has those resources, they have the opportunity, they have the infrastructure to make my life exclusively about football without the distractions, without anything else. I’m here to play football, and I have what I need to do that.”

URFC owner Dell Loy Hansen is certainly pouring resources into the organization, and somewhat literally poured his soul out to Press on June 7 after the USWNT took on China in a friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium.

With rumors swirling that a marriage between URFC and Press had been in the works (Harvey confirmed she tried acquiring her in the offseason and was “devastated” when she was dealt to Houston), Hansen approached Press and then got down on a knee, as if to propose.

Press said she didn’t even hear what Hansen said at that point, but 11 days later she had been traded to URFC (Hansen was not available for comment).

“I think when me and Dell Loy speak, he asks me what players I am interested in bringing in,” Harvey said. “Christen’s one name that I’ve been saying to him for a long time. He did his work at the National Team game.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that the first time Press will don the URFC jersey will be Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium as Harvey faces the Reign for the first time since departing the club last winter and coming to Utah.

Harvey hasn’t indicated exactly what Press’ role will be, but she did say the newcomer ought to be ready to see the field against a Seattle defense that ranks behind only URFC in fewest goals allowed.

That sounds just fine to Press.

“Ready to go,” she said. “Ready to play.”