HOUSTON — As one of the many players who has been traded during the fledgling years of the NWSL, Houston Dash defender Amber Brooks knows the drill.
Almost every player is available to be shipped to elsewhere on a moment’s notice as clubs try to shape their roster for a run at the championship. In most cases, those players pack their things, get on an airplane or in their cars and travel to their new home even if they are not happy.
The Dash, however, are dealing with a unique situation in which a player has refused to report to her new team. Less than two weeks ago, the NWSL league office informed the Dash that despite being traded to Houston in January, U.S. national team forward Christen Press would not join the club in 2018.
It left the Dash without the player new coach Vera Pauw planned to build around.
It is a complicated situation that seemingly could have been prevented at several spots. It has become an explosive story because of Press’ stature in the league and with the national team.
Like a majority of NWSL players who are not on guaranteed contracts, Brooks did not have that kind of pull when she was traded from Seattle to Houston between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. As one of the Dash’s representatives on the NWSL Players Association, Brooks has a louder voice when it comes to league issues. In the case of Press, however, Brooks did not want to say much because of how complex it is.
“I am going to say no comment because it is too hard to explain, and one way or another I am stepping on someone’s toes,” Brooks said Tuesday. “The people close to me know my opinion. I’d rather just not comment on it at this point.”
The Dash have referenced the situation twice. The first came Monday in a press release that unveiled their official roster for the start of the regular season. The Dash said that Press has not reported and does not count against the team’s active roster.
During a media event on Tuesday, club president Chris Canetti said Press is considered a holdout.
“We made a trade on draft day in good faith to acquire Christen Press from the Chicago Red Stars,” Canetti said. “To date, she hasn’t reported…whether she decides to continue to hold out or show up, we don’t have any official information on that at this time.
“When that does conclude one way or the other we’ll be able to speak accordingly. Right now she is just a player holding out just like we see in any other sport.”
A different source with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday that the Dash are listening to offers from other NWSL teams that come in but are not actively putting out offers. It also remains a possibility that Press signs with a club in Sweden – the only European league that still has an open transfer window. If that happens, the Dash would retain Press’ rights within the NWSL.
While the Press saga has played out, the Dash players who have reported to the team have been preparing for the new season that for them begins on Sunday when they play host to the Red Stars at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“It has been difficult for everyone involved,” said Dash forward Kealia Ohai, who is within weeks of returning to action after suffering a torn ACL midway through last season. “We tried to focus on ourselves. There are so many aspects of it that we don’t understand and we’re not trying to understand. I feel for every party involved. For me, it is focusing on our team and my injury and getting back on the field.”
Pauw said it has been a distraction but that the players have handled it well. She is the one who has to make the biggest adjustment because she is the one who planned for the season with Press in mind. She added that she has been impressed with the players’ work ethic and commitment even through the uncertainty surrounding the willingness of what many expected would be one of the team’s elite contributors.
Midfielder Mana Shim, who played five seasons with Portland before signing with Houston this year, said she is neutral about the situation.
“It is not that important to me,” Shim said Tuesday. “There is a lot of quality in the league. There is balance across the league. Obviously, she would help us. She is a quality player, but I am sure there are so many pieces we don’t know about. No one has the full perspective. It is not my place to make a judgment about it.”
Brooks said Pauw and assistant coach Lisa Cole have addressed the team about it but that the gist of the message always has been that they don’t know what is going on. With only three training sessions left before the regular season begins, the best thing for the players to do, Brooks said, is to focus on the the opener.
“Everyone that is here, we know wants to be here,” she said. “This is what we are working with. We’re on our phones. We see everything on Twitter. We’re not dumb. For the most part there really hasn’t been any internal conversations about ‘Is she coming or not?’ The 22 players who are presently here is what we have to work with, and we’re fine with that.”