Christen Press honors Kobe Bryant with Man United 24 jersey

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Christen Press

FILE – In this March 8, 2020, file photo, United States forward Christen Press looks for a pass during the second half of a SheBelieves Cup soccer match against Spain, in Harrison, N.J. Press says she wants to honor Kobe Bryant by playing for Manchester United wearing a No. 24 jersey. The American’s usual No. 23 was already taken when she signed for a season with the English club earlier in September, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)

LONDON (AP) — With her usual No. 23 jersey already claimed, Christen Press had a decision to make when she joined Manchester United.

It was a quick call.

“I picked 24,” the United States forward said on a video call. “It was a best of the bunch and obviously has a history to that number as well.”

History immersed in grief — in a year that began with former Los Angeles Lakers No. 24 Kobe Bryant dying in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.

“When I wasn’t able to wear my normal number, I definitely chose this (24) with a little nod to Kobe, because I’m an LA girl,” Press said. “Everywhere we went, they were crazy for Kobe and the amount of inspiration and joy that he gave people by the way he played with his passion is amazing. And, it’s something that as athletes we’re all striving to do.”

More significant than the number on her Red Devils jersey is where she will play in Casey Stoney’s front line.

“For most of my career, I would have said I’m a nine,” Press said, referencing the traditional jersey number for a center forward. “It’s where I was trained to play … but in the last three years of my life, both at club and country, I have played wide. I’ve played primarily in the 11 and I would say I’m very comfortable there as well.

“I think it allows me to have a little bit more of a dynamic nature to my style of play to be able to be a little bit more free flowing. I don’t have a lot of the traditional traits of you know, a posting nine or something like that. So, I think it allows me the versatility to play in more different styles and systems.”

The 31-year-old Press has signed up for a season in the Women’s Super League away from the Utah Royals. Her previous experience overseas — apart from in a U.S. career that has seen her score 58 goals in 138 appearances — has been at Swedish clubs Göteborg FC and Tyresö FF.

United only reformed its women’s team in 2018 after 13 years and has started its second season in the WSL by collecting four points from a possible six. The northern English club is part of the Glazer family investments that includes the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s exactly what we need and what we want to see,” Press said, “more organizations investing in the women’s game because they see the value, because they see the opportunity and potential and that’s what you have here. And I think it is something that’s contagious and catches fire and the other clubs investing in their teams 100% inspired this.

“What you hope is that it inspires the next club and that’s how the global game moves forward.”

With the American domestic season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Press is part of a wave of talent that has moved across the Atlantic to play in England.

In London there is Alex Morgan at Tottenham who, like Press, scored in the 2019 World Cup semifinal win over England.

Three other compatriots who featured in the game in Lyon have moved to Manchester, with Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis at City, and Tobin Heath for company at United.

“I’m reluctantly accepting that I’m a veteran player and that I’m now one of the oldest players on the team, but younger than Tobin,” Press said. “We’re here to fight for titles. I think what we’ll be able to bring is just like a relentless mindset towards that.”

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