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For USWNT Stars in Manchester, There Is Now Only Red and Blue

Far more pronounced than their new differences, though, are the similarities between them. It is telling, for example, that as much as the four players have bought into the Mancunian rivalry, when any of them refers to “our team,” the others know they mean, first and foremost, the United States.

Though the national team has not played a game since March, the four players remain connected to it not only through frequent Zoom meetings with the coaching staff but by a shared, and deep-rooted, culture. “The identity of the team is something you take with you,” Press said. “Every time you play, you have it there. It can’t be lost. We all just carry it a bit differently.”

The reasons that have brought them all to Manchester, too, are held in common. They are here, by and large, simply to play: to “feel like a normal soccer player again,” as Heath put it, to enjoy what Mewis sees as the unadulterated pleasure of “having games and having practice.”

None could have found that by remaining in the United States. The National Women’s Soccer League season fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic in March. Though it was eventually replaced by a summer cup competition in Utah and an abbreviated fall series, both Heath and Press opted not to take part. With that over, it is not clear, at this point, when the league will return to the field.

As Europe’s leagues started to return, then, the appeal was obvious. “It has been such a blessing,” Press said. “Tobin and I have been out since March: no team environment, no games. What a source of joy it’s been to run on a beautiful grass pitch every day, to be around a team again.”

Initially, after months of isolating, Press worried that she might find it strange to be in such close contact with teammates. “It had been so long since I had social contact, I was worried how I would be that first week just being around people,” she said. But it came back, she said, “quickly and easily and joyfully.”

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