LOS ANGELES — Growing up, Christen Press believed her value was attached to her play on the soccer field. And that put tremendous pressure on her. Standards for women’s soccer were far from where they are today, and there was no professional league. She did not know that value for a women’s soccer player could involve their off-the-field success.
“Growing up, I felt this pressure to be successful,” said Press during a panel on Thursday. “I was raised in an environment where I believed that my worth was tied to the performance, and that was an incredibly difficult environment.”
However, as women’s soccer evolved, so did Press’ understanding of the game. Fast forward to 2015, Press was playing in the NWSL for the Chicago Red Stars and represented the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) on the biggest stage, the World Cup.
Then, Press and the United States won the 2015 World Cup, and the NWSL clubs chose to continue to their fourth year, the first time a women’s soccer league in the United States made it past the third year. The popularity surrounding the sport was rising, sparking a push for increased standards.
“We left for the tournament living one type of lifestyle. We came back, and everything was changed,” Press said.
Credit: Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports
Starting in 2016, the fight for equal pay between women’s and men’s soccer began. And finally, in 2022, payments between men’s and women’s soccer from the U.S. Soccer were required to be shared equally, as agreed on in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
This year, the 2023 World Cup is expected to break attendance and viewership records, signaling growth in women’s soccer. And now, Press is turning some of her attention to the club game as the next step in the sport’s evolution.
On Thursday, Press participated in a panel that the Bank of Montreal (BMO) hosted to promote gender equity. The panel included former USWNT head coach and president of the San Diego Wave, Jill Ellis, and the head of loyalty and sponsorship marketing at BMO, Sonya Kunkel; former USWNT player Danielle Slayton moderated it.
Press spoke about the push for equality and the importance of club soccer for young women, among other topics. The event took place at BMO stadium, the home stadium of her club team, Angel City.
“[Club soccer] gives visibility to the little me’s,” Press said. “Growing up in Los Angeles on Saturday, if I was able to come [to BMO Stadium] and watch a game day experience like [Angel City’s], it would have really really impacted myself and all my peers and how we understood the potential of women’s sports.”
Aside from motivating young girls to play soccer and advancing the sport, Press has committed to community impact. Angel City hosts events multiple times a month, helping the Southern California community in various ways. And the club’s commitment to such an impact is one of the main reasons Press signed with them.
“It means everything. It’s the reason that I’m home,” Press said. “I wanted to join a club that had shared values, and being in my home vocal community and being able to give back and being able to give joy to Angelenos means the world to me.”
Press also works to support her local community through her company, RE–INC. Soccer players Meghan Klingenberg, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and she founded the company in 2019, starting with a single t-shirt. They now have a full line of products and recently celebrated their fourth anniversary in mid-June.
Press and her team rarely find themselves pitching the idea of women’s soccer anymore to investors as investors are “seeing the value” in the sport. RE-INCs growth means they are impacting the community more extensively through their membership. They are also working on expanding the company.
“We have a community, a monthly membership, where you can join to be a changemaker and find like-minded people to create change in your community. And we’re launching a new division of the business now called re-media. That’s going to reimagine the way that women are seen and experienced.”
RE-INC has partnered with multiple organizations serving the Los Angeles community and beyond.
“I think that everything that we do at RE-INC is about the connection that we have to our community,” Press said. “And every decision that I make is for the community… And this is a group of people that has phased out of so many other spaces, and we’re creating a space where people can be seen and heard and welcome.”
Through RE-INC and Angel City’s community impact events, Press is making a difference in the Los Angeles community. And through panels and other events, she is growing women’s soccer at the club and national levels.
Press has done it all this year without stepping foot on the field due to injury. But she could do it because much of her influence lies beyond her on-the-field play; her impact transcends soccer as she boosts her local community and represents women’s soccer in business.
“[Press] is such an ambassador for our sport, for women,” Ellis said. “I love what she is saying about this next generation [of women]. Can they just focus on being athletes and stop having to fight. But what I love is those athletes on the pitch, and when she gets back, she will be there as well, but they have her as an ally, representing in the business world.”
Editors Note: a previous version of this story said Heath is retired. This information is inaccurate and has been removed.