TOKYO — Christen Press is practicing restraint in these Olympics, by design.
The US women’s national soccer team has advanced to the quarterfinals in Japan. But the normally ruthless Americans have adopted a different tact after an uncharacteristic loss to Sweden in the opener.
The United States got through to the quarterfinals as the runner-up in its group with a scoreless draw against Australia. Afterward, players said it was part of the plan, to sit in a bit in preparation for the knockout rounds.
In other words, they’re playing the long game.
The Americans face the Netherlands — the team’s opponent in the 2019 World Cup final in France — on Friday in Yokohama.
Lose, and they head home.
Press, one of the team’s most dangerous assets on offense recently, acknowledged the realities of playing tournament soccer.
“This tournament is really tough with the amount of games that you need to play without as many days in between as other tournaments. And so I think with that, there has to be tactical sophistication in how we manage,” she said. “Ultimately, when the team is at its best, we are relentless and we are lethal. And even in the game against Australia, we could have been on the counter more and we could have put away some chances and would have felt really different about that.”
Press has six goals and five assists this year so far, including a goal in the US’s 6-1 victory over New Zealand in the group stage.
The United States, which is vying for its fifth gold medal in women’s soccer, lost, 3-0, in the opener to Sweden, snapping a 44-match unbeaten streak. The Americans have been shut out in two games in Japan — the last time they hadn’t scored in a game was in 2017.
Expect to see a different US team as the stakes get higher, Press said.
“I think that in the last three games you’ve seen us take different tactical approaches in the group stage. Now we’re in the knockout phase and I think that will look really different,” she said. “I think that the team is really hungry. The group stage has left us feeling like we have more to give.”
It helps that the US has defeated the Netherlands before, both for the World Cup title and in a friendly last November. Both final scores were 2-0.
“I think the Dutch have a very clear style of play that they are true to. And I think when they won their Euro and when they made it to the World Cup final, that was new for them,” Press said. “The biggest difference is now they’ve have years under their belt at the top and that feels a little bit different, they’re a little bit more experienced.”
Press, who made her national team debut in 2013, has 65 overall goals in 152 appearances. A standout at Stanford who won the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best college player as a senior, Press went on to play for clubs in Sweden in addition to stints in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Last season she played for Manchester United in the Women’s Super League, joining a number of players who went overseas while the coronavirus limited opportunities for games in the United States.
This is Press’s second Olympics. The first ended in disappointment when the United States was bounced by Sweden in the quarterfinals in 2016.
She doesn’t expect a similar fate on Friday.
“I think we know what type of team we are. And as an offense, we know what type of offense we are. And we have a way that we play. We have a way that we score goals. And it’s been successful for years,” she said. “It’s our job to take the pitch tomorrow and be that team and not to be thinking about the last game or the group stage at all, because we have a huge opportunity.”