By Rick Eymer
Stanford grad Christen Press flew to Texas and three days later scored a goal for the women's U.S. National Team in its 4-0 win over Australia in San Antonio last Sunday.
She'll join fellow Cardinal grads Rachel Buehler and Nicole Barnhart in another International Friendly against New Zealand, which features Stanford grad Ali Riley, on Sunday at Candlestick Park at 3:30 p.m.
Press had been in Sweden, playing for Tyreso, which won its UEFA Champions League Round of 32 and finished second to clinch a berth in next year's Champions League. She led the Swedish League with 23 goals in 20 games.
She traveled to Sweden to play professionally after not getting an invitation to try out for Team USA two years ago.
This year, the Americans brought Press aboard and she responded with four goals in her first four games.
"For me, it's always been about being on a journey," Press said before Team USA practice Saturday. "You don't get an opportunity until it's given to you and you accept the obstacles. I still don't know the destination."
Press turned what might have been a disappointment into a golden opportunity.
"I probably never would have gone to Sweden had I played for the national team," Press said. "Sweden was a game changer in my life. I learned so much about soccer in Sweden in such a different way. It helped my game tremendously."
When she joined the national team this year, it helped that Buehler, Barnhart and Cardinal grad Kelley O'Hara, who is currently out following reconstructive ankle surgery, were there to bring her along.
"It was especially important to me, seeing familiar faces who really guided me," said Press, who was a teammate of Buehler for one year and had Barnhart as an assistant coach. "Of course, Kelley and I have been good friends for years. This is special for me, especially playing at Candlestick Park."
It's just as important for Barnhart and Buehler.
"They're all grown up now," Barnhart said. "It's fun to see them develop through college, the pros and now the national team."
Barnhart, who still manages to work with Stanford when she's not too busy with the national team, is the backup goalie to Hope Solo. She's made five starts and appeared in seven games. She's been part of five shutouts and has an 0.91 Goals Against Average.
"It's awesome," said Barnhart, who has 24 career shutouts, a World Cup gold medal and an Olympic gold medal. "I train every day like I'm going to play. I'm just a player here, but I do analyze things and communicate with the coach (Tom Sermanni) and Hope. We like to talk all the time."
Buehler appreciates having Barnhart around as they enjoy similar tastes and hobbies.
"We're the ultimate nerds on the team," Buehler said. "We like to explore the cities we're in."
Instead of shopping malls and sports clubs, the pair are more likely to be seen at museums or national landmarks.
Buehler has put her pursuit of a medical degree on hold as she continues to play soccer. She's enrolled at UC San Diego but hasn't been able to attend many classes the past five years.
"Soccer has gotten better than I could have ever imagined," said Buehler, who has appeared in 105 games with the national team and has five goals. "There's really no timetable right now and they have been flexible. Right now the World Cup is the main focus."
Like Buehler, Riley is a defender for New Zealand. She's also been to a World Cup and to the Olympic Games. She's one of the Ferns' most experienced players, with 74 caps (and one goal. Only three other active players have appeared in more games.
Riley plays with Malmo in the Swedish League. For a couple of hours they will all share the same field.