XI from ’12: [No. 3] Alex Morgan

Jeff Kassouf December 30, 2012 16

Alex Morgan finished 2012 with 28 goals and 21 assists. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Miraculous, bone-chilling, unfathomable – all these words would suffice, but still none do justice to Alex Morgan’s extra time goal on August 6.

It was the 123rd minute of the Olympic semifinal match at Old Trafford between the United States and Canada. A wild, controversial game that saw Canada’s Christine Sinclair score a hat trick and goalkeeper Erin McLeod get called for a dubious six-seconds violation was about to come to a dreadful ending: penalty kicks.

Thirteen months earlier, Abby Wambach had “save[d] the USA’s life,” as ESPN commentator Ian Darke famously shouted into his microphone. Her 122nd minute header drew the U.S. level with Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinal, which the Americans went on to win in penalties.

It was, at the time, the latest goal ever scored in a FIFA competition. That changed on this overcast August day in one of the great cathedrals of soccer, when Morgan stamped her mark on one of the greatest games ever.

Morgan’s header to give the U.S. victory just before the final whistle will go down as one of the most memorable U.S. women’s national team moments ever, but it shouldn’t overshadow the momentous year she had.

The 23-year-old finished the year with 28 goals and 21 assists, joining Mia Hamm (1998) as the only other player to register at least 20 of each in a calendar year.

Much like Wambach can thank Morgan for a stellar season, Morgan should do the same to Wambach. Both are world-class on their own, but together they make an unstoppable forward pairing.

Morgan, nine years younger than Wambach, is already the new face of U.S. Soccer. She has been tabbed as the next Mia Hamm and it is, in many ways, a very justified comparison. But instead of a complete changing of the guard, Morgan represents more of a working apprentice becoming the teacher’s (Wambach’s) new partner in trade.

To think that Morgan only committed to playing club soccer 10 years ago is mind boggling. Eighteen months ago, she was a super-sub. That she was benched for the 4-0 Olympic qualifying win over Mexico on Jan. 24 is ludicrous in hindsight, but it is exactly what the young star needed for motivation and another masterful piece of inspiration from now ex-head coach Pia Sundhage.

In a little over a week, Morgan may or may not take home the FIFA Ballon d’Or as world player of the year. Whether or not she does (she should), Morgan will be a fixture as one of the world’s elite for years to come. She has a nose for goal, she’s developed into a playmaker, too, and there still isn’t a defender who has shown the ability to keep pace with Morgan.

Some decades down the line, when we look back on the career of a player who, right now, has the potential to be in that ‘all-time greats’ conversation, we’ll look at 2012 as the breakthrough — that first huge year.

And don’t forget that benching on Jan. 24, the point after which Baby Horse galloped far in front of the pack.

Over the final few days of 2012, the staff at The Equalizer will countdown our 11 most memorable moments of 2012. Some were spectacular and some were disappointing, but one thing is common amongst all of them: they will be remembered for years to come.

No. 11: U.S. U-20 women win World Cup
No. 10: North Carolina wins its 21st NCAA title
No. 9: Lyon wins second-straight Champions League title
No. 8: Rapinoe comes out

No. 7: Pia Sundhage’s USWNT era ends

No. 6: WPS folds; W-League and WPSL Elite try to fill the gap

No. 5: The National Women’s Soccer League is born

No. 4: Abby Wambach’s incredible year

  • Kernel Thai

    Alex Morgan is the rare blend. A pinch of this and dab of that. Simmer, and the result is delicious. A winning mixture of speed, strength, determination and savvy. Best of all she seems just as happy providing as she does scoring. Her 14 consecutive games with at least a goal or an assist is record whether USSoccer recognizes it or not. Considering the legends that have gone before her, it’s an amazing achievement in her first full season as a starter.

    This was a magical season for Morgan and magic doesnt happen every year. She may never accomplish so much again regardless how storied her career is. She is the best female footballer in the world at least this year and I hope the FIFA voters recognize that. The award doesnt say lifetime achievement which Wambach prolly deserves. As for Marta, the fact that she’s a finalist again after a less than stellar international campaign shows there is something wrong with the process.

    • Steglitz49

      Alex Morgan burst on the scene last year when she scored the first goal in the World Cup final and then induced Iwashimizu into a tackle, which led to the first red card in a ladies’ world cup final. Morgan tumbled; Iwashimizu walked. The rest is not history because a year later the Canadians forgot Iwashimizu’s firm intervention. This cost the Canadians dearly.

      Ms Morgan is that rare breed of attacking player who has as many assists as scores. Nordahl when asked how it was that he scored so many goals, replied that it was easy to score when he had such a great provider as Gren. It is often forgotten that these two men vied for the most goals scored in a season and that many consider Liedholm – the 3rd of the Grenoli – as an even better passer. But I digress.

      It took the world’s best central defender to stop Alex last year. The author suggests that this year has been even greater for Alex. It is hard to argue with that.

      I suspect that motivation will be Alex’s big challenge. (The reasons are obvious.)

      One assumes that foreign clubs may well be interested in Alex’s services. She lost a season at Berkeley because of injury. If offered a fat contract I think that she should cash in and make hay while fit and healthy. There are only so many supermarkets to open and brands of body-paint to sell, and, as far as I know, she does not knit.

      As for Alex as for Abby Wambach: wherever she goes, Alex to immerse herself in the local culture to build a second career when she returns. I favour Japan or South-Korea over old Europe but she might prefer Barcelona or Rossiyanka should they come knocking. Maybe offer her services to Göteborg, the club that gave a young unknown Solo a chance but Press abandoned.

      • Don B.

        Actually, she did not lose a season at Berkeley. She tore her ACL in her senior year of high school, worked hard in rehab, and went on to be Cal’s leading scorer her freshman year. There are a few pictures around of her playing with a knee brace. The kid was dedicated.

        • Steglitz49

          Thank you for the correction. Much obliged. Happy new year!

  • luke

    Can she become more precise with tough tricky shots, can she master her first touch and can she stay healthy?
    If yes, yes, yes, there is women sports history in making, period

    • Steglitz49

      I worry that she will lose her motivation. The USWNT has two and a bit boring years ahead of it.

      • Don B.

        I don’t think she’ll lose her motivation. Remember, when she was six years old she gave her mother a note (which she still has) saying that she wanted to be a professional athlete. Everything she’s done in her life since deciding to focus on soccer has led her to where she is now, and she has said numerous times that the bright lights are passing fun, but her real passion and purpose is the game.

        • Steglitz49

          A chill wind swept through the ladies’ sports-world a year ago when Magdalena Neuner announced that she would retire at the end of the season because she could not motivate herself. Indeed, she was only bothering with this season because the WC was in her home state. She was 25 when she chucked it in, so Morgan ought to be able to carry on till the WC in 2015. (Likewise Vikky Rebensburg seems oddly disengaged.)

          It is worth considering how young not only female but also male athletes have been when they called it a day. Let’s hope as you write that Ms Morgan remains injury free and delights us for a few more years.

    • Don B.

      In a recent interview, she was asked by a sportscaster what she feels she needs to do to improve her game. She was very specific when stating that her air game and her first touch were what she would be focusing on. I will say that her air game isn’t as weak as some would think because in college she had some spectacular goals with her head, one while running full speed, flying through the air and laying her head on the ball about two feet outside the far post just before she reached the end line. A bit of work on how to precisely place the ball with the head will take care of that, and she has the best teacher in the world on the front line next to her. Her first touch is sometimes a little rough, and while I think she has purposefully used that in the past to her advantage because of her speed, it is something that she needs to refine and soften. I’m confident that by the time the next World Cup rolls around she will have mastered both.

      Her precision will come with maturity. I often feel that she misses shots she should have made simply because of nerves and the enormity of the situations in which she misses (New Zealand and Japan in the Olympics as examples) although she seldom misses when it really, really counts. Then again, I have seen her make shots that would seem impossible because of the narrowness of the angle, threading a shot into a space hardly wider than the ball from 10 or 20 yards out. The number of shots she places on frame is phenomenal. Once again, time will take care of this.

      This woman has a gift, she’s dedicated, and she works hard at making herself better. Only injury can keep her from becoming a legend. Let’s pray she stays healthy.

  • Joshua

    Alex Morgan is the Wayne Gretsky of Women’s Soccer. She makes it all look so easy.

    Definitely the most popular USWNT player since Mia Hamm.

    How well was the USWNT doing before she emerged ( I recall a loss to Mexico that nearly disqualified the USWNT from the 2011 WWC) and how would they would have done without her in the last year?

    The USWNT is going to have it’s work cut out to make sure she stays involved and dedicated to the USWNT and the sport of women’s soccer given all the other possibilities she has now given her one million twitter followers and all. Also that she stays stateside and doesn’t “ship out overseas”.for the next two years before the 2015 WWC.

    • Steglitz49

      I thought that Muhammad Ali was the greatest. (Allegedly, no-one was allowed to tackle Gretzky to NHL standards.)

      Let’s throw our hats into the ring and figure out the football-legend who most is most like Alex! Maybe it is Zlatan? Or, dare I suggest Johan Cruyff? Or, reaching further bak, why not Il Professore himself?

      • luke

        Somehow she looks like more physical version of Samuel Eto for me.

  • Allie

    It was quite a treat watching Morgan come into her own this year.
    Just one question for USWNT fans…which do you think will be the more memorable goal over the course of time – HAO to Morgan in the last minute of stoppage time against Canada, or Rapinoe to Wambach in the last minute of stoppage time in the WWC quarterfinals over Brazil? Both are remarkable last second goals that are oddly similar I kind of want to say that Rapinoe-to-Wambach will be more ‘iconic’ (for lack of a better term) because it kind of thrust the team into the spotlight during the WWC and had what I consider to be a more difficult/unlikely assist. Then again, Morgan’s goal led them to the gold medal game, which they won. What do you guys think?

    • luke

      Tough one – but Morgan’s was the latest goal ever scored and led to ultimate success, so 51% for her.

      • randomhookup

        I might go the opposite direction, because at least if Morgan’s is missed, the US had PKs. If Abby missed, game over.

        • Steglitz49

          I agree with your reasoning. I would add that USA was playing with 10 ladies, one having been sent off (as she should have been in the Olympic final a year later).

          Abby was careful to stay on-side (Brazil ought to have caught her out) and crafted enough space. Canada should never have let the final cross be put in and certainly should have stayed closer to Morgan.

          In short, Canada forgot Iwashimizu’s “Non passerán!” attitude. Morgan tumbled; Iwashimizu walked.