LYON, France — Cody Press, the father of U.S. women's national team forward Christen Press, leans into a café table and heaves a sigh. This is tough. Cody is a hard-nosed guy, a former Dartmouth football captain who played with future NFL pros Jeff Kemp, Dave Shula and Nick Lowery. But the past 10 months have been crushing, a constant emotional overload.
“I think about her and cry every day,” he says.
Two nights ago, he watched his daughter score the first goal in the Americans’ 2-1 Women's World Cup semifinal victory over England. As he celebrated in the stands, he saw Christen respond by turning her gaze skyward and raising both hands to the heavens. Later, Christen posted that photograph on her social media:
After the game, she said, “I was thinking of my mom.”
Stacy and Cody Press met at a picnic in the early ‘80s at Howard University, where she went to school. They got married on New Year’s Eve in 1982. Soon they started a family and eventually had three daughters. Tyler came first, then Christen, then Channing. Stacy was in every way the family’s matriarch.
“My buddy nicknamed her The General,” Cody says, “because she didn’t take no bulls—t from the privates. And I was the private. She ran the family.”
Cody graduated from the Wharton School of Business, and the family settled in the Los Angeles area, where he became an investment banker for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Stacy had athletic talent in her own right—she was a terrific club tennis player—and she was always ferrying the kids to various activities.
“In school they’d be at the poetry reading contest,” Cody says. “They would do Brownies. They played tennis. They ran track. Finally, Stacy said, ‘You guys are doing too much stuff. You have to pick a few things.’ So they picked soccer and tennis. And still did stuff like the talent show at school, and Stacy would be the one to choreograph the talent show. She dedicated her life to the girls.”
In time, soccer took over for all three Press girls. They played for Slammers FC, a highly regarded club in Orange County. Stacy, who at various times managed all three girls’ Slammers teams, would drive them an hour each way from their home in Palos Verdes up to three times a week for practices, and then drive them again to their weekend games. All three Press daughters would go on to play Division I college soccer.
But Christen? She was a phenomenon. At 13, she was playing up with Tyler on the Slammers Under-16 team. At Stanford, she scored a school-record 71 goals and in her senior year (2010) won the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best player. Press was Rookie of the Year during the 2011 WPS season, spent three years in Sweden (where she helped take Tyresö to the 2014 UEFA Women's Champions League final) and finally broke through on the USWNT to be part of the 2015 Women's World Cup-winning team.
Last August 31, the Press family celebrated Christen’s 100th cap at the U.S.’s victory against Chile, a home game in the L.A. area.
Two days later, Stacy suffered a seizure. It was completely unexpected.
“She ran a half-marathon a couple months before the seizure,” Cody says.
In the emergency room, Cody says, they discovered “a blotch” on her brain. A specialist at the City of Hope cancer treatment and research center in Pasadena eventually diagnosed a Stage IV glioblastoma, the kind of tumor John McCain and Ted Kennedy had—an extremely rare and aggressive condition. Stacy had surgery in October, but Cody says she suffered a stroke during the procedure that left her partially paralyzed. Her family marveled at her strength as she went through therapy and chemo.
On January 22 of this year, Christen scored a fantastic solo goal in the U.S.’s 1-0 friendly win at Spain, on a majestic run from her own half in which she completely overwhelmed the Spanish defense. It’s hard to imagine a U.S. player other than Press who would even try to score such a goal. That she pulled it off made it even more remarkable.
Christen and her teammates flew home the next day, January 23. But a tragedy awaited. Stacy had suffered a brain aneurysm. She was on life support at the hospital.
“Tobin [Heath]’s her best friend,” Cody says. “Tobin and [Christen] got in a cab and came straight to the hospital, but when they got there we said, ‘Listen, she’s on life support.’ Tyler and I made the decision. We’re all here and giving her morphine.” He pauses. “And we took her off life support.”
Stacy Press passed away on January 23, 2019. She was 58.
“Her service was standing-room only,” says Cody. “You talk about the girls. Stacy was brought up under Catholicism. We went to the Catholic church, and they said we can do this, we’ve got all these rules, we’ve got Mass, we’ve got to do this. The girls said screw that. We’ll do our own service at Palos Verdes Golf Club. They set up for 250 people. It was 250-plus in chairs and then another 50. Lots of local people. All the Slammers showed up from Christen’s team.”
Several of Christen’s U.S. teammates were there, too.
“When she died, the players were very supportive,” Cody says. “Tobin was there. [Megan Rapinoe]. Alyssa Naeher. I can’t think of everybody, but a lot of players showed up. It was very nice of them. They’re a pretty close-knit group.”
During this World Cup, Christen’s Nike boots bear the numbers 01.23.19—the day that her mother passed. On Tuesday, Christen got a surprise start in the semifinal when Rapinoe picked up a hamstring strain. In the 10th minute, Press finished a gorgeous U.S. buildup with a header that beat England goalkeeper Carly Telford.
A header! Can you imagine that? From the same player who scores so rarely on headers that her college coach Paul Ratcliffe nicknamed her "Turtle."
Down on the field, Christen thanked her mother in the sky above. In the stands, Cody and the family exulted.
“Stacy would have loved it,” he says.