Morgan Brian returns home to Georgia Dome

Steve Bruno February 12, 2014 79

Morgan Brian practices with the U.S. national women's team in the Georgia Dome. (Photo copyright Steve Bruno.)

ATLANTA, Ga.—On Thursday, the U.S. women’s national team will return to Georgia for the first time in over three years. It’s been almost as long since Morgan Brian, arguably the state’s greatest high school soccer player, played a competitive match in her home state.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Brian said of her return to Georgia to represent her country. “Playing in Atlanta, there’s a bunch of people that I know that are coming to the game. Especially for a national team game, you don’t get to play here that often, this close, in the same state… so it’s a very cool feeling.”

Brian and her teammates will play in the cavernous Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons football team. The indoor stadium has also hosted the occasional soccer game, including contests featuring European heavyweights AC Milan and Manchester City.

“It’s an awesome place to play,” Brian said after the team’s practice in the Dome on Tuesday, the first time she’s ever stepped foot inside the vast arena, adding with an awestruck chuckle, “There’s a lot of seats in here.”

Nearly 80,000 seats, in fact. Although the U.S. side won’t fill all those seats, with roughly 14,000 tickets sold for Thursday’s match, they have already tripled sales from their last appearance at KSU Soccer Stadium.  (Despite the weather issues, U.S. Soccer announced today the game would be played on Thursday as rescheduled.)

Brian admits there might be a hint of nerves heading into the contest, but the midfielder doesn’t expect the large crowd or even larger stadium will ruffle her typically cool feathers any more than the average gameday jitters.

“I think it’s good nerves every time you step on the field. I was talking to some of the players that are veterans and they still get nervous on game day. You’re playing in front of a lot of people, it’s for your country, for the most prestigious team you can play on right now for the women. I think everyone’s going to be nervous to some extent, but I think it’s all good.”

In October of 2010, many of those veteran players took to the pitch for a friendly game against China in the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta. Brian, meanwhile, had just completed a cycle captaining the Under-17 version of the national team, and was preparing for a stellar senior season at Frederica Academy in the coastal Georgia city of St. Simons Island.

With an astounding 71 goals in the spring of 2011, Brian stepped off the field as not only the Georgia Player of the Year — her second consecutive claim to that title — but the Gatorade Female Soccer Player and overall Female Athlete of the Year as well. She was the first soccer player to win the Athlete of the Year award and only the third student-athlete from the state of Georgia to win, with professional basketball players Dwight Howard and Maya Moore being the other two.

At the end of her prep career, though, Brian packed her bags and headed north, favoring the Virginia Cavaliers’ program over her earlier verbal commitment to the University of Georgia. The fit with coach Steve Swanson’s brisk, possession-intensive style of play was a match made in soccer heaven. The heir to outgoing-Cav Sinead Farrelly’s crown, Brian stepped onto the pitch in Charlottesville and immediately seized control of the midfield, even as a freshman. Brian flourished under Swanson’s tutelage, both with the U-20 team that won the World Cup in 2012 and at Virginia, where they almost reached the pinnacle of collegiate sports this past season. Almost.

The 2013 edition of Brian’s Virginia squad put on one of the most spectacular displays in recent memory. Showcasing a flamboyant, mesmerizing attack, the offensive juggernaut went on a 20-game unbeaten streak, including a perfect 13-0 tear through the brutal ACC to finish as the regular season champions. With midfield string-puller Brian at the helm, the Cavalier ship was on a steady course for its first national championship.

That ship ran aground twice in Cary, North Carolina though. A November loss to in-state rival Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinal provided a sobering smack in the face for their first and, technically, only loss of the season. December’s College Cup semifinal draw and ultimate PK-shootout loss to eventual champions UCLA left the team shell-shocked in the aftermath.

As the underdog Bruins celebrated their winning penalty kick shot on the center stripe of WakeMed Soccer Park, the Cavs sat at the middle of the pitch and looked on in despair. The heart-and-soul of the Virginia attack, Brian was shattered and virtually inconsolable after the game.

“For me, it was just… it was very upsetting,” Brian said with a sigh, still seeming a bit uncomfortable in talking about the game. “We looked back and that was the best season I’ve been at (with) Virginia and I wouldn’t change it. We played great soccer all the way through and we also won and scored a lot of goals and had a lot of fun. I think, for us, it was the people that surrounded it; we were all great friends off the field and I think that’s why everyone was so upset, because we loved to be with each other and playing on the field together. I think that showed for people watching.”

Brian said the team quickly regrouped back home to put the tournament and the season into perspective.

“We were very upset for a good week after that. We got back to Charlottesville in the locker room and we met for a good two hours on what made that team so successful and what made everything work. We couldn’t really find any negatives that whole year… I think we spent most of the whole two hours crying, still the next day, because we had such a great year and it was so fun. It was probably the best season everyone will have at Virginia, so I think we just wanted to review it and actually take it in and realize how much came out of it rather than on losing (or) ‘we didn’t get what we wanted.’”

Morgan Brian won the MAC Hermann Trophy for 2013 thanks to her work in Virginia. (Photo copyright Steve Bruno.)

In addition to their program-best 20-game unbeaten run, the team posted new school records for goals (78), shutouts (16) and wins (24) on their way to Virginia’s first appearance in the national semifinals since 1991. Brian finished the year with 16 goals and 14 assists, tying the Cavaliers’ highest assist output in a season and finishing one point off Caroline Miller’s single season points mark with 46. For her efforts in Virginia’s success, Brian earned the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy for 2013, college soccer’s highest individual honor.

Now just two weeks out from her 21st birthday, Brian knows there’s still room for improvement in her skill-set, even as the top collegiate player in the country.  She’s drawn praise for her speed and spontaneity without the loss of precision.  She also balances the roles of provider and finisher.

But when asked what she needs to work on to be successful at the international level, the junior replied in her usual humble fashion, “Everything. It’s just fine-tuning everything you’re good at and working on the things you’re not so great at. I think, for me, it’s just finishing around the 18, speed of play, keeping the ball moving and being more assertive.”

Two weeks ago, she got her first start for the U.S. in the derby against northern rival Canada. Playing the full 90 minutes in a more reserved role as a holding midfielder, Brian garnered positive reviews for her maturity despite being the youngest player on the roster. She says her quick-thinking style developed out of necessity as she played well above her peers from an early age, sometimes even as much as four years beyond her age group.

“Most all of the coaches I have had growing up have emphasized that. I played up when I was young, up until I was about 13 or 14, so I had to be quicker on the ball, I had to have a good touch, because I was smaller than everyone.”

She also gets much of her inspiration from overseas, a fact that won’t surprise those that have watched her play with the University of Virginia.

“I’ve watched Barcelona growing up my whole life,” Brian continued, “so I think that’s a huge reason why. I’ve watched that and tried to take it to the field with me.”

The Catalan club has set a new standard for the men’s game over the last few years with their complex yet fluid play and, with the women’s game gravitating toward a similar style, a player of Brian’s quality could be one of the key ingredients for the U.S. team’s necessary evolution.

The last time she played in Georgia, Morgan Brian was on her way to the greatest award in high school sports. She takes to the turf on Thursday just a month removed from college soccer’s highest honor for a single player. It could be a few more years before she plays here again, but with head coach Tom Sermanni placing her on the fast-track to success, who knows? Maybe the next time the state gets to watch one of its brightest stars play will be on the 2015 World Cup Victory Tour.

  • xman22702

    No offense, this is a greatly-written article, but isn’t this just another article about Morgan Brian and her accomplishments? It’s getting a bit old.

    • clioamare007

      I enjoyed reading this article. I hope writers will talk to other rookies soon.

      • xman22702

        Yeah, it is a great article like I said, but this is like the third or fourth article of Mo in about three months.

      • Steglitz49

        The article could have been about 3 rookies instead of just the one, but seeing that it looks like a placement piece by her agent that may not have been what was desired.

        The last sentence — “Maybe the next time the state gets to watch one of its brightest stars play will be on the 2015 World Cup Victory Tour.” — is tempting fate and inviting vengeance from the gods. What happened to the UVa Cavaliers can happen to the NT.

        In short, the US are big favorites for WC-15 but so were Hungary in 1954 and, to stay on the distaff side, no-one had the Nadeshiko on their radar before WC-11. Who had heard of a coach called Norio Sasaki except nerds of Japanese soccer?

        • wosofan

          Brian does not have an agent. She is still a college athlete. By contrast, Syd Leroux has a well-known agent/PR company, Wasserman, who work very hard to get her good publicity (as they should). For example, the article last month in Sports On Earth, where Leroux was critical of Pia’s regime — great PR piece. I believe Solo and Dunn are also Wasserman athletes.

          • Steglitz49

            pick your own euphemism for “agent”, please

        • luke

          Steg did you at least watch UVa – UCLA game?
          I wonder, because if you did you should know that you could put Messi or Ronaldo in place of Brian and UVa still would have been athletically outclassed.
          Comparing Cavaliers to USWNT is ridiculous.

          • Steglitz49

            I suppose the Nadeshiko athletically outclassed the USNT in Frankfurt in 2011 too.

            Either you’ve got what it takes or you don’t on the night.

    • Steglitz49

      Hear hear!

  • VaFan51

    Thanks so much. Always glad to hear more about Mo and the other younger players in the UWSNT pool.

  • Rdalford

    Good article on Morgan Brian. I enjoy watching her style of soccer. However, the article writer missed oportunity to highlight Kelley O’Hara who is another returning Georgia athlete who also has had great success at college level and with USWNT as well as some info from other young players called into this USWNT cycle.

    • Steglitz49

      A simple explanation is that Ms Brian’s agent placed the article. Disguised advertising or PR, if you prefer.

      • wosofan

        If she had an agent, she would forfeit her college eligibility. So, you’re wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the writer wanted to interview the best player in college soccer.

        • Steglitz49

          …. spiritual advisor, sport psychologist, dietician, waxer of skis, etc …… take your own pick of euphemism for “agent”.

        • martiunka

          I agree. Local journalist wanted to interview best player in college soccer who happens to be from Georgia where USWNT will play next. Simple as that.

      • guest4795472

        Here’s a thought douchebag: Start your own website and write up articles others can rip on.

  • gerd karl

    poor uswnt
    germany win the wwc 2015

    • c01

      See you in Canada 2015. The Red, White and Blue will bring its 3 generational forwards plus a more dynamic midfield with them can’t wait.

      Morgan Paige Brian with Erika Tymrak is present and future of the USWNT midfield.

    • karl’s cousin

      Yes, Germany will win 2015 WWC

    • Steglitz49

      Like last time?

      One must not mock the afflicted but it is worth noting that Germany was knocked out in the quarterfinals of WC-11. It did not even go to a pso.

      • gerd karl

        usa lost the wwc 2011
        uswnt won 2013? nothing
        a nwsl club won 2013, nothing, oh sorry, portland won the joke league

        germany won 2013 the european championchip and is 8 time european champion

        the vfl wolfsburg won the champions league 2013

        uswnt is a loser team

        the german nt is the best in the world, the best of the best of the best.

        sorry for my american style

        • NYRick

          Sol, do you truly ever stop? The only chance the German women have of beating the US is with bad management, poor coaching and putting the wrong girls on the pitch. Come to think of it, maybe you have a chance after all.

          • gerd karl

            the friendly in may 2013, germany – usa.
            the usa leads 1-3 against germany and germany fight to a 3-3

            sorry for american style

            germany is the best women football team in the world, and beat the uswnt in the final 4 -0
            worldchampion 2015 is germany,

            the best of the best of the best, yeeaaaaaaah

            very sorry the american style

          • luke

            Gerd, what do you think about Nadeshiko’s chances in 2015WWC?

          • Steglitz49

            At best semi-finalists but likely out in the quarters.

          • why?

            Thanks Gerd! It is so strange your need to see your own comments 49.

          • gerd karl

            very good, germany is better but
            japan is younger, stronger and tactic and technics better as the uswnt.
            sorry for my english

          • NYRick

            Have to admit your line, “very sorry the american style” does make me chuckle.

        • Lorehead

          Careful, Gerd: Nadine Angerer is playing for Portland in that joke league now.

          • gerd karl

            money for the pension, congratulation nadine 35 years old

            the new german number one

            almuth schult 23 years old

  • luke

    Greatest young soccer mind in American woso:
    – sees and anticipates things on the field other don’t even suspect,
    – has the skill set to take advantage of above (passing machine),
    – is competetive and feisty (not afraid to tackle or slide),
    – when she can’t make some of her jaw-dropping passes she scores in every imaginable way: fantastic long headers, diving headers, strong distance shots and precise free kicks.

    My absolute fav young US trio: Brian – the greatest soccer mind, Dunn – the greatest athlete and Tymrak – the most elegant and finesse player.

    Damn you Yanks, you don’t have to worry about future, do you?! 😉

    • Steglitz49

      In that case, why did her team not win the championship. She even blew a penalty.

      As for World Cups, there are sometimes dark horses and unexpected results, like last time.

      • luke

        If you set up relay race 20 players x 100m Virginia vs UCLA, UVa girls would finish 20sec behind.
        That’s why her team did not win the championship.

        • Steglitz49

          Maybe biathlon (skishooting) is a better analogy. It is not enough to either ski fast or shoot well, you must be top notch at both. The ski-shooting relays are particularly wonderful because anything can happen in them — and frequently does.

          Why America with its gun culture does not dominate biathlon is a good question but at least Tim Burke has done well and his Andrea will come with him to live in Lake Placid.

          • it’s a woso site!


          • Steglitz49

            Tim Burke won a World Championship silver medal last year. His partner for a couple of years, Andrea Henkel, has medals coming out of her ears. Tim has persuaded Andrea to try life in the USA. Hope it works out for them!

          • NYRick

            “With our gun culture!!” That’s low, are you kidding?

          • Steglitz49

            Biathlon became an Olympic discipline in 1960 in Squaw Valley. The sport took a giant leap forwards with improved broadcasting technology. It is a big winter sport these days.

            It is a bit strange that the US has made little impact in this sport, where the prize money is the same for the ladies as the men and the biggest stars have been ladies. Decidedly odd.

      • nwslfan

        soccer is a team sport, last I checked. MoE and UVA had a good game in college cup final. UCLA had its incredible speed. UVA plays in toughest conference in the nation and had an amazing run during regular season. Hats off to Swanson. MoE missed a pk, but one pk does not define any player. It’s part of a body of work. (and no, Chastain is not defined by the pk, she is defined by stripping off her shirt in joy in front of 90k).

        • Steglitz49

          “The winner takes it all”, sang Abba. All those voted accolades count for nothing when another team get their mitts on the real trophy and hoists into the air.

          If you do not believe the USNT, you could ask the Mighty Magyars or, why not Ms Kaihori, who did not get the Golden Gloves but got the World Cup. Indeed, neither Ms Kawasumi nor Ms Sameshima made the 2011 All Star team.

          At least, unlike Ms Press, Ms Brian does not need to go to Sweden to rebuild her career. Maybe she should try a spell abroad anyway. Bev and Becky would no doubt get her an introduction to the Nadeshiko league.

          • luke

            Kiis for grumpy Steg from Super Trouper #6… ;P

          • gerd karl

            usa u-20 world champion
            chelsea effect, bad play and win the title
            this is us soccer

            best player – dzsenifer marozsan, germany
            best goaly – laura benkrath, germany
            3 best scorer lena lotzen, yes, germany

          • nwslfan

            here you go karl, you crabby so-and-so

          • Steglitz49

            The US won the final. That is what counts. It was the only game Germany lost and may even have been the only goal scored against them, but the USA won.

          • luke

            Someone please call Miss Brian and tell her that she has to “rebuild” her carrer at 20 years of age, being college junior, U20 World Champion and Hermann Trophy Winner.
            She may not be aware she is on the wrong path… 😀

          • newsouth

            every time one of these girls comes through the pipeline she is the next wunderkind which i don’t see in her. she’ll be a good career mid-fielder for the uswnt. next is summer green. once you get a brand name in the system, you’re almost a fixture for a NT spot.

          • Lorehead

            You just complained that the USWNT makes it too easy for young players to get a spot.

          • newsouth

            actually, they make it too hard for out of the loop super talented players to get a spot vs talented in the loop players. that’s what i said, press, killion, courtnall, etc, etc, etc.

          • newsouth

            or is mewis 2 the greatest talent at ucla? i guess i missed that. or is she the brand name at ucla?

          • nwslfan

            winner takes it all is a non-response blurb. each year, there is only ONE team that can win the championship….. I’m sure every player on UVA felt the pain and misery of its college cup loss, (and UCLA was better that day). The article is about a particular kid, who is quite brilliant at the game and deserves the accolades. sounds like MoE (and her teammates) have rebounded emotionally from the loss, per the interviews. It seems does she not define herself by soccer wins/losses. she has proper resiliency. she has not been crushed by the loss or even by missing a pk in a final. she probably learned from the experience. She can always go to other leagues and learn what she can after ncaa.

          • Steglitz49

            Tobin Heath certainly seems to have recovered from having a penalty saved judging by her performance in the NWSL final. That freekick goal is what we will remember of Tobin.

            In short, the future is bright. The future is the NWSL.

          • wosofan

            So, starting midfielder for the U20 World Cup champions counts for nothing, huh? I think Maren would disagree with you, Steg. She sure got the better of Marozsan when it counted, in the Final.

          • Steglitz49

            The article neither mentions the U-20 world cup nor that Ms Brian played in it.

            The article does state that Ms Brian received the “Hermann Trophy for 2013, college soccer’s highest individual honor”, yet “nwslfan” insists on telling us that “soccer is a team game” last time s/he checked.

            I chose to point out that winning a Cup matters. Why St Bruno left the U-20 World Cup, her biggest success to date, out is beyond me but that is what he chose to do. Don’t shoot the messenger, please. Shoot the pianist.

          • guest4795472

            Yeah, because you can’t discuss individual accolades and team achievements in the same article. I’m glad you think you’re an editor, though. Maybe you can write you’re own articles, loaded up with clichés and non-tangential references to the Nadeshiko and Gold-Metal Lena. What a dipshit you are.

          • Steglitz49

            Let’s trust the young lady has a fine world cup in Canada.

    • newsouth

      I have to watch her again because I didn’t see all these things. Courtnall and company held her in check. Also, she looks like all the newbies on the NT, just trying to get a roster spot in the magic23. Dunn is the one who is completely ahead of the curve and will beat someone out in the next 12-14 months.

      • luke

        Well, she doesn’t look “like all the newbies” to Sermanni… 🙂

        • Evevic

          Luke I agree with your assessment and trio selection. The future looks really bright with these three. I said it before, and I’ll say it again; looks aside, she’ll be the Morgan people talk about in 2-3 years. She’s a complete player to needs more experience.

          • newsouth

            is she a mid-fielder or forward? are we talking france or the uswnt because forwards rule the day on the latter team.

          • Steglitz49

            There will only ever be one Morgan. Don’t kid yourself. (Well, two if you count Cliff Morgan; and three if the Morgan sportster is included.)

      • treehill

        Everyone seems to have watched some mysterious games where Brian proved herself a genius against international competition.

        Can’t be her regular college games because those don’t prove anything. Can’t be NCAA playoff games because she looked no more than above average and you could argue she choked. Can’t be USWNT games because she’s barely played any and was nothing more than solid. So, I’m very curious what these mystery games are.

        • Steglitz49

          Hear hear! The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.

    • NYRick

      Totally agree with the 3 you mention. The US is absurdly fortunate. Problem is, the US will not utilize any of them as starters for a WC until 2019. Forget 2015, they will make the team, but get cameos and cups of coffee in some games. They will cite experience and the need to play the vets blah blah blah. In the end, superior talent rules the day, but this program will learn a tough lesson in 2015. That gives your Canadian team a chance at least which they really have no business having if you put the correct US team on the pitch.

      Fact is, give me an international team RIGHT NOW with those 3 and even their current level of experience, and just let me add Press to that group. With those 4 as my core I would have a very, very good chance to BEAT, yes beat, any international team in the world right now, including the US with the Abby/Carli/HAO core or Slyvia’s young German talented crew. Call me crazy, but I would take my chances with that any day.

      • luke

        I’m not Canadian, I’m Polish.
        And that’s exactly what I’m thinking: gimme those three plus let’s say Curtnall and Poland will qualify for 2019 WWC. We have PSG’s goalkeeper Kiedrzynek, Ewa Pajor and some other 2013 U17 Euro Champions will be 22 – we might even get out of the group.
        If Brian, Dunn or Tymrak miss Canada, I may address an official letter to USSF on the matter… ;))

        • NYRick

          Oh sorry. For some reason I thought you had previously mentioned you were Canadian. Is Poland going to qualify for WC15? Where does that stand?

          • luke

            It looks pretty bad: lost to Sweden who were group favourites anyway, but then devastating loss to Scotland at home 0:4. Virtual chances only.

        • Steglitz49

          Go down the Jack Charlton route and find eligible players in the alleys and byways, in the hedges and along the roadside. Sign them up.

          The problem is, as you point out elsewhere, qualifying for the WC-15. The Scotch lasses look like besting Sweden but the Swedes look likely to finish second in their qualifying group.

      • guest

        If you could stick those four onto the Dominican Republic squad and beat or even draw the US or Germany, you should win FIFA Coach of the Year and every team in the world should be looking to hire you.

        • luke

          Yep, they would be a core to a very decent team, WC participant for sure, but beating US and Germany sounds a little bit too optimistic.

        • NYRick

          LOL. Start engraving the Coach of the Year trophy.

          But seriously though if you put 4 great players in those disciplines on the pitch (one in the back: Dunn, two in the mid: Brian and Tymrak and Press as your striker) you may have something to work with. The point is that you really have to go out of your way to lose with the US talent. And those 4 will make your job absurdly easy on the US team.

  • BCAD

    Kelley O’Hara is also from Georgia

  • Stay Pressed

    Off topic, but, who picks these venues?
    Why would you wanna play in a 80.000 seat arena?

    • wosofan

      Not every city has a nice soccer stadium that can seat more than 15,000. And, it is winter, so they need a dome, or need to play in a good weather state. Frankly, I wish they’d gone to KSU soccer stadium, but it’s outdoors and it is probably considered “too small” nowadays (only 8,500 capacity or so). They played at KSU back in 2010, when the USWNT was not as popular. These friendlies are geared to raising revenue, more than anything, so that’s why the USWNT now plays at large venues (homes of the NFL Patriots, Cardinals, Lions, Titans, Jaguars, 49ers, etc.)

      • guest

        Look at the weather in Kennesaw and you’ll see why KSU wasn’t an option. Even with a dome the game was rescheduled. Real problem is the lack of c. 20,000 seat stadiums. It’s either too big or too small all across the country.

        • AlexH

          I took a look at Kennesaw and saw the Russian team eating ice cream cones and practicing with their sleeves cut off.

  • Pressured

    With the first pick, Los Angeles selects Morgan Brian.

    • Steglitz49

      LA has gotta have a team first. Who will underwrite them? The Lakers? Disney?

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