Christen Press might not be the best-known USWNT player, but she is one of the most skilled. The 27-year-old striker has 33 goals in 66 international appearances. She also may be playing her best soccer right now. Press is tied for the National Women's Soccer League lead with three goals through five games this season for the Chicago Red Stars. Press talked to ThePostGame about how the NWSL can succeed, how young fans give her inspiration and why the USWNT is fighting for equal pay leading up to the Rio Olympics.
ThePostGame: It's early, but you are the leading goal scorer in the NWSL. How do you feel about the start to this season?
CHRISTEN PRESS: It's interesting. As a goal scorer, my focus is always on converting my chances and being clinical in the box. That's my No. 1 priority. I'm proud and satisfied with how the first four games (the Red Stars have since played a fifth game) have gone in terms of goal creation and execution, but I've been playing a little bit further from the goal. I would definitely like to get more chances on goal and not just one shot and hope it goes in. I want to create more chances for teammates.
TPG: You have three goals and two earned goal-of-the week honors. Is every goal going to be that crazy? Will any be easier?
PRESS: Hopefully. I think that comes down to creating higher percentage chances as opposed to one-off chances where you have a very low percentage of scoring. As my performance improves and the team's performance improves, there will be classic goal-scorer goals.
TPG: What do people not know about life in the NWSL?
PRESS: Maybe people don't realize how different everyone's experiences are. We are a growing league. We have some environments that are really professional with great game day experiences with so many fans and they walk around and everyone knows them, and there are some clubs with none of that. We're all working forward to making it a little bit more fair, with a little bit more parity, but I think some of the girls who are playing in environments where you're not getting much back and you're playing for your dreams of getting better and making the national team, there's so much to thank them and commend them for fighting for all of us because those are the girls the whole league rides on. It's not easy to be in that position, but we couldn't have a league without them and it's not as glamorous as it may seem from the outside.
TPG: You spent a couple years playing professionally in Europe (Sweden). What did you gain from that experience and why'd you come back?
PRESS: So much. It's hard to give one answer in an interview. I think from a soccer perspective, I learned a little about normalcy, a little about consistency. I think the American sports culture has the idea that professional athletes need so much, like flying private planes, which obviously we don't, but that's the American sports culture when they think of the NFL and the NBA. Over in Europe, there's an emphasis on making sure everyone's comfortable and happy, making sure practice runs smoothly and getting all the things that you absolutely need to be comfortable and happy and being less worried about all the ostentatious things that aren't necessarily essential to performing. Just being in a league where you play every Saturday, you play each team once, home and away, having the normalcy was so good to my career.
TPG: But you did come back, and why do you believe in this current U.S. league as opposed to maybe the last go-around before you went to Europe?
PRESS: It's exactly that. Last time, it was very much about owners trying to figure out how to make this league come through. I was at magicJack, and we were obviously a special case because the owner flew us around in private planes and gave us steak dinners after games and put us up in fabulous apartments, but that was a league [WPS] that couldn't be sustained. Now, we've come to the opposite end. I think we've gone very, very far. I don't know if it's the right amount, but we're building from the bottom up.
TPG: Unlike when you were in Europe, do you feel like it's your job to promote the league just as much as to play in it?
PRESS: I'm not sure. I think in some ways, we promote it naturally just in the social media era. I don't necessarily think that's part of my job. I think a lot of girls do, but I don't feel that way.
TPG: What's your favorite part about playing in Chicago?
PRESS: I love Chicago. I think it's an amazing city. I never spent time here before I moved here. There's so much that I love about it. I love the kind of working-class culture. I love how much the people show their life on the streets in the summer because they're so happy it's warm out. Great food, great music scene. It's a really, really nice place to live. Luckily I live downtown and I really enjoy it. I think that kind of carries over to the spirit of this team. That's the thing I'm most grateful for now. It's my third year on the team and these girls are awesome. Nobody complains. They put their head down, they do the work. They put up with a lot and we get results. It's amazing to be around. It gives me so much perspective. Everything is about perspective. To think these young players, they're fighting for their dreams, it's really inspiring to be around.
TPG: What is your favorite deep dish pizza spot in Chicago?
PRESS: Giordano's. I love the deep dish.
TPG: Do you feel like you are getting better playing in the NWSL?
PRESS: I definitely am and I definitely feel that way. The league is so taxing physically that I get most of my value from just playing consistent games. I don't get that with the national team. We play sporadically, a few games a month. Consistently playing games is so important for us. In Europe, I felt that really benefited me.
TPG: The national team has a lot of talent up front, including you, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd. You are all obviously spectacular players. Is that a healthy competition within the team?
PRESS: Yeah, I mean I've never known it to be any different. Last year, we had like six forwards on the roster. That is part of the challenge of being on the national team. The competition's always going to be there and it's great for me to always be fighting for my spot, fighting for my time and there's no room for complacency here.
TPG: When you started with the national team program, did anyone feel like they'd have this rock-star status you guys have now?
PRESS: Absolutely not. When you start chasing around a soccer ball, chasing your dreams, you don't think about it. Maybe some people do, but I never even thought about it. To this day, I still think I'm the same person. It's different when people care about your personal life or have people care when you see them on the street. I'm getting used to it. I'm grateful for all of our fans because at the end of the day, they give us purpose.
TPG: When was the moment you realized just how famous you guys had become?
PRESS: Probably the ticker-tape parade. It was the moment I realized how many people this had reached. I have this very poignant memory thinking that the parade was over. We had been there so long and seen hundreds of thousands of people. Then we turned the corner on the float and seeing more and more rows of people, I could not believe that there were even more people at this parade after the World Cup.
TPG: What's the most inspiring thing a fan has said to you?
PRESS: This isn't the most inspiring thing ever, but very recently, I saw a little girl in the stands, she was probably like 8 years old, and she had a sign that said, "Equal Pay." I thought that was so awesome. It sort of speaks to the message we're sending out to little girls that you can fight for yourself and your value. It's an amazing thing to be a woman and you should be proud of it.
TPG: There are so many things that can and cannot be said about that situation right now. Was that something that as you guys gained more and more publicity, it became a conversation that gained more legitimacy in terms of developing a strategy to get equal pay?
PRESS: That's an interesting question. I think at the end of the day, it had been kind of a battle for all women in all fields. I think it just hit its climax in the last year. It's partially because of the success we had at the World Cup and the attention we got because of it.
TPG: What do you think is still stopping you guys from getting equal pay?
PRESS: Well, hopefully nothing. I guess everything is TBD right now. We'll see how it goes.
TPG: What is the advice you give young girls getting into soccer now?
PRESS: The advice I would give to young soccer players is the advice I'd give to any young human. Find your passion because when you're doing something you truly love and you're happy with your work, you're so much better. There's too much of a stress in our American culture to be successful, unless success makes you happy. In the end, the actual skill, the actual thing that gives you so much internal joy, if you can find whatever it is that gets you out of bed with a smile on your face, you're probably going to be great at it.
TPG: What was the best advice you got growing up?
PRESS: I had a coach in college [at Stanford] that told me every step of the way, enjoy the journey. It was so cheesy when he told me that at the time, but when [college] was over, I totally got it.
TPG: You guys have the Olympics coming up, what is there to accomplish on the field and what is there to accomplish off the field this summer?
PRESS: I think it's a little bit different for each player. There's people on our team who have won two Olympics. This for them will be about being the first team to win back-to-back World Cups and Olympics. We have other players have never played in the Olympics, and for us, it'll be such an opportunity to bring pride and joy to our country and our family. Honestly, it's really important in soccer right now that we have our successes and fight to grow the game. We know we have to have success to make that growth.
TPG: You guys have the equal pay argument, you made the point about the dangerous turf in Hawaii last year. How can you promote equal treatment of women's sports at the global level in Rio?
PRESS: I actually like to think soccer is a very global game. All the news we create is very global. Obviously the World Cup is a different case, but in Rio, the [men's] U-23 teams will be there, and there will be some attention on us playing in the same venues, double-headers with the U-23 men's team, and I think that gives us an even bigger opportunity to send messages to the whole global community.
TPG: Are you worried about Rio -- Hope Solo was vocal about the dangers of the Zika virus -- are there any worries on your end about traveling to Rio this summer?
PRESS: No. My greatest concern right now is for all the people who are affected and all the people there who don't have the medical protection that they need and they don't have the resources to escape the virus. That's where my main concern is.
TPG: When you went to the White House, what was your favorite part about that?
PRESS: Being in the president's aura. I was very excited to meet him and he met and exceeded every expectation.
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-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.