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Analysis

XI from ’12: [No. 3] Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan scored twice on Wednesday to lift the United States over Germany in the Algarve Cup final. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

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

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