During Jill Ellis' chat with reporters Tuesday afternoon about the Olympic roster announcement, I asked what she thinks the ideal role is for Christen Press.
In recent times, Press has played a variety of roles, from striker to winger to most recently withdrawn forward behind front line leader Alex Morgan. As you might imagine, each of those tactical setups affects how Ellis can deploy the many other attacking stars on the U.S. women's national team.
Ellis gave a long and thoughtful answer that I think deserves its own post so it can be laid out in full. Here it is:
This is what I think is unique about our front players. [Crystal] Dunn can play the No. 9 [as striker], she can play wide. Press played in the No. 10 against Japan in our second game [a 2-0 win on June 5]. I thought she was fantastic. She finds good holes. Against South Africa, she picked up the ball quite a lot and was able to turn.
If I don't go specifically to positions and I say, "Is Press able to play behind the line or in front of the line?" Yes. She's very comfortable coming back for the ball and also penetrating without the ball.
So, what does that lend itself to? Well, I think she can play, certainly in the No. 9, where we're looking for a lot of penetration. I actually think she's stronger this year. I think she's really committed to her fitness. I think she's actually done really well in wide areas as well. I think playing a three [player] front helps her because that wide player can stay wide and look to get in behind without the ball.
We defend out of a 4-4-2 [and] she's always making sure she makes a commitment to her defensive presence. I think she's done that.
In all, it is kind of crazy how deep we are in terms of the versatility up there in that front group. If you would ask [Press] her best position, I think she would probably say: "On the field." But I think Press has done really well of late and we could use her in the 9, 10, 7, 11 [attacking roles]. I think her skill set allows her to be that versatile.
When Press plays in the withdrawn role, that takes a central midfielder off the field - usually Morgan Brian or Lindsey Horan. It's been a bit easier to get away with lately because Brian has been dealing with a hamstring injury. But it also pushes Carli Lloyd into a deeper role than what's usually best for the Delran native and national team captain.
I asked Ellis what she sees as the implications of those moves. Her response:
Carli is our 10, so maybe that answers your question. Morgan is coming back from injury, so the domino falls with who we play in the No. 6 [defensive midfield role] and who fills the No. 8 [box-to-box role].
Now, against South Africa, we actually brought Carli in as the No. 8 and later in the game pushed her to the No. 10.