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Christen Press still trying to find firm footing for Utah Royals FC as playoff push continues

SANDY — Last week before Utah Royals FC played the first of its final six games of the regular season, head coach Laura Harvey noted that the squad is still evolving as it fights to remain in playoff contention in its inaugural campaign.

Harvey specifically pointed to the fact that there’s still collective work being done to integrate United States Women’s National Team forward Christen Press into the lineup after she arrived in late June in a blockbuster trade, especially because there hasn’t been a whole lot of practice time and Press was gone the final third of July and the first few days of August for the Tournament of Nations.

It’s certainly evident that a marriage that seemed to make a great deal of sense in terms of URFC’s need for a goal scorer is still a work in progress, even if Press is already fourth on the URFC roster in shots and has scored twice.

Press acknowledged as much Tuesday at training as URFC was preparing for Wednesday’s game against the Washington Spirit at Rio Tinto Stadium. Most specifically, she said she’s still learning how to play on the wing instead of at center forward, a position usually occupied by fellow USWNT forward Amy Rodriguez.

While noting she’s been playing wide for the national team for about a year, Press said, “I still think that my best position is in the 9. I feel very powerful and dangerous and just comfortable with my movement and knowing what I give the team in that position in different scenarios.”

Playing wide, however, she’s still somewhat uncertain what she needs to do when various situations arise.

“If we’re pushing for a goal, what does that look like? When we’re trying to protect a lead, what does that look like? But I think in the organized attack, I feel comfortable there,” she said. “Laura gives me a lot of freedom to come inside if I want, to work on the inside pocket, to threaten behind the line, so I feel that I can get into all the same spaces as I could as a 9.”

Press’ second goal for Utah, which was the equalizer in URFC’s eventual 2-1 victory Sunday on the road against the Houston Dash, came on a night when there was certainly a great deal of buzz surrounding her at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Reacting to the fact that Press never reported to Houston after getting traded there in January by the Chicago Red Stars (she then played in Sweden for a few months before being dealt to Utah), fans booed her every time she touched the ball, something that isn’t a common occurrence in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Some NWSL observers wondered if it was an appropriate response from Dash fans, particularly since the team doesn’t draw big crowds and the boos often drowned out cheers for the home side.

Noting it didn’t bother her during the course of play, Press said she’s fine with fans booing in the majority of instances.

“Of course fans can boo,” she said. “They’re there to have fun, and if they want to heckle, as long as it’s in a not terrible, disrespectful way, they can heckle all they want. They’re supposed to support their team, so I think it’s all in good fun.”

Wednesday’s game is against a Spirit team that has been eliminated from playoff contention. Former BYU star Ashley Hatch leads the attack with four goals on the season. URFC beat Washington 2-0 in the teams’ first meeting on May 5 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

First kick is set for 8 p.m.