In the 10th minute, Press headed a long cross from Kelley O’Hara past the outstretched arms of English goalkeeper Carly Telford and into the top left corner of the net to give the Americans a 1-0 lead. The teams later traded scores, and the U.S. held on for a 2-1 win to advance to a third straight final.
Press credited one of her teammates, in addition to O’Hara, with an assist on her goal.
“I have been honestly watching Carli Lloyd practice her headers every single day for the last two years,” she told Fox after becoming the ninth different U.S. player to score in this year’s World Cup. “I never join in, I just watch, and I like to think maybe that helped in that moment. I channeled my inner Carli Lloyd.”
Press’s tally shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. She’s been a member of the U.S. national team since 2013 and entered Tuesday’s match with 121 international appearances. The Los Angeles native, who plays professionally for Utah Royals FC of the National Women’s Soccer League, played in four games and scored one goal in the Americans’ run to the World Cup title in 2015. Press has come on as a substitute throughout this year’s tournament. She is faster and considered a better defender than Rapinoe, which may have factored into Ellis’s thinking, though no reason was provided for Rapinoe’s absence from the starting lineup before the match.
Press’s first-half goal on Tuesday was the 49th international goal of her career, tying her with — who else? — Rapinoe. It may have felt like old times. O’Hara and Press were teammates for three seasons at Stanford, where Press won the 2010 Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s top player. She finished her career as the Cardinal’s all-time scoring leader with 71 goals.
“I know Kelley so well as a player, and the players that I grew up with and that I’ve known since childhood I have a better connection with on and off the field,” Press told the Stanford Daily before the 2015 World Cup. “It’s really special to play with your friends for your country.”
While Ellis ultimately settled on Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath as her three starting forwards entering the World Cup, Press made the decision a difficult one.
“Something you look at when you go into a World Cup is your depth and your players that change the game,” Ellis said after describing Press’s play as “freaking awesome” in a 2-2 draw against Japan at the SheBelievesCup in February. “[Press] was obviously great in the [previous] game, made a difference there. She’s posing a lot of challenges now in terms of selection, because I thought she was just an instant game-changer for us.”
Tuesday, the contest she changed had slightly higher stakes.
“I look back on the game and it’s crazy,” Press said after Tuesday’s win. “It’s so, so emotional. What a team effort, just the heart and grit it takes to score two goals with our head early, save a penalty, have a goal taken back. Emotionally up and down . . . and for us to just stay strong, stay composed, stay calm, execute and make it to the finals is incredible.”
Rapinoe said after the 2-1 victory over England that she has a minor hamstring injury and should be ready for Sunday’s final.